Hagfish are marine fish that look like eels, and they are the only known animal with a skull and no backbone. They also have the unique ability to tie themselves into a knot.
Hagfish are about 19 inches (.5 meters) long. They have flat, paddle-like tails and no fins. Their skin is bare, and it fits loosely like an oversized sock. Their eyes are only eyespots to detect light, and they can’t resolve images. Even though they have a skull, they have no jaw. They eat with two horizontally-closing plates that have cone-shaped teeth. They help to clean up the ocean by entering the bodies of dead or dying fish and eating them.
Pacific Hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii) like the other species in their class have a sticky defense mechanism. When they are threatened, about 100 glands located along their sides produce a large amount of slime. The slime is fibrous, but in the water, it expands to about five gallons (20 liters). That is enough to discourage and even choke predators. The hagfish can then tie itself into an overhand knot to scrape away the slime and flee its captor. This method works well to escape marine predators, but some bird and mammal predators which remove the hagfish from the water are more successful.
Humans capture Pacific hagfish and use the skin for making clothing, belts, and accessories which are sold as “eel-skin.” Even an ugly and repulsive creature can serve a purpose in the ocean and provide useful products for humans. They are just one more part of God’s amazing design for life on this planet.
© Roland Earnst