#32 – Hagfish

Pleased to meet you, I’m a hagfish.

“I never forget a face, but for you I’ll make an exception” – Groucho Marx

You’ve probably never heard of the Hagfish, let alone know that there’s a day of the year (coincidentally, today) named after them. It probably doesn’t help their cause that they leave at the bottom of deep oceans and sea across the world, nor does it help their case that they are monumentally ugly. However, the latter reason proves that they can be heroes too. Why? I’ll explain.

Look to your left. Now look back. If you’ve run away screaming in terror thinking a sea-captain has gone all Brundlefly on you, then I don’t blame you. Hagfish are even less attractive than their name implies, and that’s saying something – coming from the Essex coast, I’ve encountered a lot of decrepit sea hags in my time. Meeting a four-foot long eel with a face like a cauliflower duck isn’t going to fill your day with joy.

Neither will its eating habits. While most normal animals enjoy finding some prey and noshing on the meaty skin to get to the juicy innards, the hagfish does this in reverse – it will crawl into its chosen target through their mouth, gills or even anus when they are dead or, even more disconcertingly if you have a mental image, dying, and eats away at the succulent organs within. In the end, all that is left is a floating bag of skin filled with bones.

Even one of its more impressive features is quite repulsive – when being targeted itself by predators it secretes slime. By the bucketload. If you don’t quite get how much, just look at the images in this interview with a slightly scary man who sounds like he would like to take a hagfish home, keep it locked in a basement for 7 months and then marry it. That’s a lot if slime.

It’s final feature is not ugly and actually quite impressive – the hagfish doesn’t bleed when cut and as such, these cuts don’t get infected. As a result, scientists have been looking at the slime for medical purposes, though have yet to find anything.

None of these reasons, though, show how the hideous hagfish can be a hero. The answer comes from the day that’s been named after them. They are used as an example for ugly animals every year, for disfigured creatures everywhere. While this may be promoting beauty on the inside in nature, they are still taunted. They have to be the face of ugliness across all the animal kingdom, while creatures such as the shrivelled and equally penis-like Naked Mole Rat and the California Condor remain relatively unscathed.

So thank you on behalf of other ugly animals (and whatever Shane McGowan is), hagfish. While they can’t hack the mental scarring, you’ve had to bear the brunt of it all. Just please don’t go on a rampage of revenge and eat us – humans don’t look good as sacks of skin filled with bones.

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