Also known as slime eels, hagfish are fish with two brains, five hearts, and an amazing sense of smell and touch. That may seem bizarre, but for a species that lacks well-developed eyes, these features do come as a blessing in disguise. More than 70 different species of hagfish are known to man.
The species was first discovered by Pehr Kalm, a disciple of Carl von Linné. It is said that in 1747, Kalm left Sweden for his final destination; North America. However, he was forced to take a halt at Grimstad in Norway due to some problem with the ship. It is here that he spotted the hagfish for the first time and described it in 1753.
He has even written about the species in his book "A Journey to North America". At first, it was mistaken as a 'sleeping worm'. It was only in the late 18th century that it got its real name, and was placed in the round-mouth family of fish.
It is believed that the first species of hagfish originated around 500 million years ago. They have not changed much since then, and that has made them a subject of interest all around the world. Their skeleton is made of cartilage instead of bones. It was initially believed that their anatomy was like this because of their parasitic nature.
Facts About Hagfish
- Even though hagfish look a lot like eels, they are not even remotely related to them.
- Hagfish boast of being the only living species that have a skull, but lack the vertebrate.
- They burrow in the bodies of dead and injured animals, and destroying them completely from inside.
- Some species of hagfish have also been found at remarkable depths of about 1700 meters in the ocean.
- If threatened, the species starts secreting slimy mucus from its body. Predators avoid hunting hagfish as its slime can fill up their gills and make breathing difficult.
- Scientists and marine biologists have a special interest in hagfish as it is considered a source of insulin. In hagfish, insulin is produced in the islet organ, which is located near the tail.
- Interestingly, hagfish have a crucial role to play in the marine environment. They clean up the oceans by feeding dead animals that pollute the environment.
It's easy to dismiss hagfish as a weird-looking species, but did you know that their skin is used for making wallets, belts, and bags. At times though, these products are marketed in the name 'eel skin'.