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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Hagfish Myxine glutinosa

The hagfish is an extraordinary fish that can literally tie itself in knots and does so regularly as a means of ridding itself of excess slime. Special slime-exuding pores run along both sides of the hagfish's eel-like body, enabling it to produce sufficient slime to fill a bucket in a matter of minutes. The glutinous slime is usually more than adequate to deter most predators. Like all jawless fish, the hagfish has no bony skeleton but simply a supporting flexible rod of cells, called a notochord, allowing it great flexibility. Fleshy barbels surround the hagfish's slitlike, jawless mouth, and it has only rudimentary eyes. There is a single pair of ventral gill openings about a third of the way along the body.

The hagfish spends most of its time buried in mud with only the tip of the head showing. It mainly eats crustaceans but will scavenge on whale and fish carcasses. Once the hagfish has latched onto a carcass with its mouth, it forms a knot near its tail, then slides the knot forward in order to provide itself with sufficient leverage to tear its mouth away along with a chunk of food.

  • Class Myxini
  • Length Up to 30 in (80 cm)
  • Weight Up to 1 lb (750 g)
  • Depth 130–4,000 ft (40–1,200 m)
  • Distribution Coastal and shelf waters, below 55°F (13°C) in north Atlantic and western Mediterranean