Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Weird and Wonderful Halloween Special Part 2: The Deep-Sea Devil

Ione Bingley

As we continue on with our travels down to the deepest, darkest corners of the watery underworld, we might chance upon this gruesome spectacle. No, he didn't get lost on the way to the Prometheus auditions; this terrible creature isn't just a figment of nightmares. It is, in fact, a bona fide species of deep sea fish, rarely seen less than 500m below sea level, preferring to skulk at 1km or more under the waves. It is certainly diabolical in appearance; scaleless, paper-thin black skin, giant eyes, and huge jaws with a set of razor sharp teeth. The first specimen was presented to William Orville Ayres of the Boston Society of Natural History in 1848. Will named the species Malacosteus niger (meaning soft boned and black), claiming its bones are so soft that they "can be pierced even in their hardest parts by a needle with the greatest ease". 

Although utterly monstrous to look at, the black dragonfish grows only to a mere 25cm! Do not, however, be fooled by his mediocre size, Mr Malacosteus has some pretty sneaky hunting tricks up his sleeve. He is able to hinge his head backwards at the neck allowing the lower jaw to shoot out and impale little fishies on needle-like fangs. The jaw is then withdrawn delivering his victims right into the throat via pharyngeal teeth found in the neck. 

His devilish bad looks are augmented by the presence of two large photophores, light organs, located below (suborbital) and behind (postorbital) the eyes. The postorbital photopore uses a chemical called luciferin (in keeping with the satanic theme) to emit blue light at a wavelength of 460-490nm, perfect for penetrating the dingy depths. The suborbital photopore glows red light using a protein that absorbs the blue light and emits light at a greater wavelength appearing red. M. niger uses chemicals absorbed from unlucky copepods on the menu, to enable him to see red. 

Beware divers of tomorrow of a benthic beast with flaming scarlet eyes and jagged jaws, for he is seeing red and you might be his next victim….. mwah ha ha ha