How Hagfish Unleash a Torrent of Slime

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What keeps the boneless, jawless hagfish thriving after more than 300 million years? SLIME. The goop it exudes – a mix of mucus and special protein cells – expands to 10,000 times its original volume in less than half a second, potentially clogging the gills of competitors.


No scales... no bones... no jaw…

No problem!

The hagfish has slime… and plenty of it.

It’s survived for more than 300 million years by sliming its enemies.


Hello gorgeous.

This circle here, looks like a mouth? That’s its nostril…

Yeah you heard me, just one.

It’s excellent at sniffing out dead stuff to eat.

And that’s a good thing because instead of eyes like ours, the hagfish has a pair of simple, light-sensing organs under its skin.

If you think these pointy things are teeth, you are very wrong.

They’re called barbels, which help it smell.

The hagfish keeps its teeth -- these dentures from hell -- well-hidden.

To go with that handsome face, it's got skin for days.

Hanging off its body like a baggy onesie, which, along with the slime, makes the hagfish nearly impossible to bite into.

Researchers get to see hagfish happenings by dropping cameras with bait in the deep sea.

When a shark attacks, the hagfish remains unbothered.

Its vital organs shimmy out of harm’s way inside its roomy wrapper, giving it just enough time to deploy its slime blast.

That slime flows from glands running along the sides of its body.

When combined with seawater, the mixture swells up to 10,000 times its original volume in less than half a second.

The slime is made of mucus, but itʻs no ordinary snot. It's chock full of special protein threads that look like balls of yarn under a microscope.

Once they hit seawater, those proteins unspool without tangling.

Hagfish are almost exclusively scavengers, eating dead things that fall to the seafloor, when they can find ‘em.

Ooo! Dead whale!

Sometimes they have to go months without food.

They wait patiently behind rocks or curled up like slimy cinnamon rolls.

When a meal finally arrives, they slide right on in.

And they’ll slime any competing fish who might be hoping for a bite, sometimes clogging the fish’s gills and killing it!

Even a hagfish could suffocate in a hagfish’s slime.

So they tie themselves in knots, sliding their own slime right off their bodies.

Ah, all clean.

Ready, at any moment, to unleash a suffocating cyclone of slime -- again and again.

Oh good! you're still here. Deep Look knows what you need – more slime! Like this banana slug, covered in a liquid crystal ooze. It numbs the tongue of any animal that tries to nibble it. See you there.