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Hagfish predatory and slime defense mechanism

Author(s): Zintzen V, Roberts CD, Anderson NJ, Stewart AL, Struthers CD, et al.

Abstract

Hagfishes (Myxinidae), a family of jawless marine pre-vertebrates, hold a unique evolutionary position, sharing a joint ancestor with the entire vertebrate lineage. They are thought to fulfil primarily the ecological niche of scavengers in the deep ocean. However, we present new footage from baited video cameras that captured images of hagfishes actively preying on other fish. Video images also revealed that hagfishes are able to choke their would-be predators with gill-clogging slime. This is the first time that predatory behaviour has been witnessed in this family and also demonstrates the instantaneous effectiveness of hagfish slime to deter fish predators. These observations suggest that the functional adaptations and ecological role of hagfishes, past and present, might be far more diverse than previously assumed. We propose that the enduring success of this oldest extant family of fishes over 300 million years could largely be due to their unique combination of functional traits.

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