June 25, 2021

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Anglerfish are stranger than science fiction

8 min read

In 1833, an almost perfectly spherical fish washed ashore in Greenland and was taken to zoologist Johannes Christopher Hagemann Reinhardt in Copenhagen, Denmark. This fish — later known as the footballfish, Himantolophus groenlandicus, or the man-gobbler — was the first anglerfish known to science, wrote Ted Pietsch, a systematist and evolutionary biologist, in his book “Oceanic Anglerfishes” (University of California Press, 2009). 

Today, there are about 170 known species in 12 families of deep-sea anglerfish, and a “huge diversity” within those families, Mackenzie Gerringer, a professor of biology at SUNY Geneseo in New York who specializes in deep-sea fish told Live Science. Common names for anglerfish hint at some of the wild forms they can take — snaggletooth sea devil, wolf trap and pugnacious dreamer (also known as the tyrannical toad), to name just a few. They sport a fantastic range of shapes and textures; some are squat and round (Melanocetus johnsonii), while others are flat and huge-snouted (Thaumatichthys binghami) or covered in whiskery filaments (Caulophryne jordani). But while these fish are found all over the world, they are fairly elusive, solitary creatures — par for the course for a fish that lives 1,000 to 16,400 feet (300 to 5,000 meters) below the surface. As a result, new species are still being discovered, each more strange than the last.