Ladies and gentlemen…for today’s A to Z Challenge “C”-related post, I give to you our first non-human, but very real, Ladies I Love: the female warty sea devil! Oh, come on – I’m a fish biologist – you can’t tell me you weren’t expecting this, can you??? Well, since it’s my blog, and my Ladies I Love theme, I can do what I like. And what I’d like is for YOU to learn something about the deep-sea anglerfishes of the family Ceratiidae, or the warty sea devils! This is no ordinary family of fish, you understand. Anglerfish on their own are very interesting; surely you’ve seen them before (you know, from your nightmares, or from this scene in Finding Nemo). Their name comes from an appendage that extends from their head to out in front of them, with a bioluminescent bulb dangling from the end, acting very much like a lure (making the fish itself an angler). Smaller fish are attracted to the light (“ooh – what can that be down here in the darkness? I must investigate…”) and then CHOMP! The anglerfish takes its prey (clever girl!).
But to be more specific, sea devils, and warty sea devils in particular, are quite interesting for one primary reason and two words: sexual parasitism (ok, I can feel your eyes glazing over, but this gets better – I promise). There’s a great amount of sexual dimorphism in anglerfish – that is, females and males physically vary quite a bit from each other . The female is often quite large compared to the male, and they’re not very common, either. You’d think that these two would never actually even find each other, hook up and create new cute(?!?) little baby warty sea devils, but here’s where it gets interesting. The male has either very good eyes or a strong sense of smell that alerts him to the presence of a female. As soon as he nears her, he grabs onto her with his mouth, at which point enzymes immediately fuse the male’s mouth to the female’s body. Their circulatory systems soon merge, and the male basically lives a parasitic life, with its organs dissolving away until he becomes no more than a sack of gonads that is ready to provide sperm when the female wants to reproduce. Crazy, huh? What’s also unique is that these fish are genetic chimera (one organism having more than one genetically distinct set of cells, in this case, cells from both the male and female), and that the chimera is a required part of its life-cycle.
Want to learn more about the anglerfish? Here’s a “somewhat educational but mostly entertaining” video about the anglerfish, NOT narrated by Morgan Freeman:
And finally, this cartoon lovingly drawn by The Oatmeal (click here for the full strip). Oh, I love the Oatmeal. And he definitely loves my anglerfish lady. And you should too!