Spooky season … under the sea
By Alyssa Rodriguez, Education Specialist Oklahoma Aquarium
For many, the beginning of October marks the beginning of “spooky season,” a time that conjures up images of bats, witches, vampires, and spiders. Nearly all the scariest creatures we associate with Halloween are inspired by movies and myth, but plenty of aquatic life is far more frightening than fiction. Take for example, the tongue-eating louse. This parasitic crustacean earns its name by burrowing into its host’s gills and attacking the blood vessels of the fish’s tongue. Once the tissues of tongue die, the tiny parasite attaches itself to the stub and effectively becomes the host fish’s tongue until that host dies. While that’s a pretty extreme example, there are plenty of other animals who prove that its always spooky season in the water! Here are three of the scariest animals you can see at the Oklahoma Aquarium.
In third place is the moray eel. Although it is only a misconception that these serpentine fish are aggressive, they still earn a spot on the list for their intimidating jaws. Morays breathe by opening their mouths to intake water, thereby flashing a view of their razor-sharp teeth with each breath. Though it looks like an intimidating display of aggression, it’s a normal and necessary behavior. What truly makes the moray eel list-worthy is its second pair of jaws! Behind the first pair, resides a small secondary set of jaws known as a pharyngeal jaw. Because morays do not have an esophagus, they use the pharyngeal jaw to deliver food from the outermost jaw to the stomach, almost like a sliding slingshot. On an X-ray, it looks especially terrifying!
Second is another sort of eel: the electric eel! The electric eel isn’t technically an eel, but rather a member of a the knifefish family. Knifefish wield no blades, but they are a bit scary since they can all produce electricity. Most knifefish can only use this ability to navigate or locate their prey, but the electric eel makes the cut because it can use its shocking abilities to stun its prey from afar. Using specialized cells that act like several batteries in series, the electric eel can generate an electric current of nearly 600 Volts. Upon locating its prey, the electric eel delivers a few quick shocks then wraps around its prey such that it doubles the strength of the electric current; this stuns the fish enough for the eel to devour its meal alive!
Coming in first place is the Pacific hagfish. Though it doesn’t pose much threat to people, this jawless deep-sea creature is pretty nightmarish. They primarily feed on decaying corpses, gathering by the hundreds to feast on the flesh from the inside out. If its diet isn’t creepy enough, the hagfish is known for something even more bizarre. Its body is coated in a thick slime that expands when it touches oxygen. A single hagfish can fill a five-gallon bucket with slime in only a few minutes. The texture alone is enough to deter many predators, but it also clogs a predator’s gills, thereby choking any fish brave enough to attempt a slime covered meal. Even though it can’t hurt a person, the hagfish seems like the kind of creature that only exists in movies.
These are only a handful of our oceans and rivers’ scariest offerings! Celebrate spooky season with all kinds of aquatic creatures this October during HallowMarine at the Oklahoma Aquarium. HallowMarine will take place over the last three weekends of October (with the final night on October 31st). Visitors will get to enjoy trick-or-treating under the sea with the help of local sponsors. To become a sponsor or purchase tickets for HallowMarine, visit the aquarium website, okaquarium.org.