These Maggots Of The Sea Are Actually A Delicacy In Parts Of The World

You probably haven't heard of hagfish (sometimes called slime eels) before and seeing one will probably make you cringe with disgust. But don't misjudge these sweet little creatures! There are many facts about hagfish that show they are not only really cool, but beneficial to all of us. Not only do some people eat them for nourishment, but they keep the oceans cleaner, help us with scientific breakthroughs, and some hagfish characteristics just make them seem kind of adorably goofy. Once you get past outward appearances, these animals are downright awesome!

From the odd hagfish mouth to strange little tail, these creatures are truly unique. What they lack in eyes, they make up for in heart (literally), and although they may seem weird, they're pretty much harmless to humans. So, although they may seem like horrifying underwater creatures, they actually do us far more good than bad. 

By the time you're done with these hagfish facts, you'll hopefully see this animal in a whole new light. Don't judge a book, or fish, but its cover!


  • They're Easy On The Eyes... In The Sense That They Don't Have Any

    They're Easy On The Eyes... In The Sense That They Don't Have Any
    Photo: cramsay23 / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    One of the first things you might notice about the hagfish is that it has a very odd looking face. It doesn't seem to have a nose that you can see, and it looks like it has whiskers... and there really aren't any signs of conventional compound eyes. Instead, they have basic eyespots that can detect light around the animal, but doesn't show them any images. 

    The hagfish has gotten its other senses finely tuned over the eons. They have a very keen sense of smell, even if they don't have what you might see as a normal nose. They have a single nostril on top of their head to help them sniff out a good meal. Their whiskers are also like tentacles for their face. With these little sense stubs, they can find their way around their food, navigate the ocean floor, and say hi to each other when they meet.

  • They're Soft And Squishy, Not Scaly

    They're Soft And Squishy, Not Scaly
    Photo: cifraser1 / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    Although they're called fish, hagfish aren't actually a scaly creature. Instead, their body is covered in a soft, loose-fitting skin, more similar to our own rather than the usual fish scales. This means that touching one may be a rather slippery experience, but it won't be rough or bumpy. They also come in a small variety of colors, ranging from brown and gray, to pink and pale. The specialized skin is also really cool, as they can breathe through it somewhat, and the Hagfish can absorb nutrients straight into its body through the skin! That means that in a way, if you were to pet one, it would be like it was giving you a smooch with every touch.

  • They Can Tie Themselves Into Knots

    They Can Tie Themselves Into Knots
    Photo: Travis S. / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    The hagfish isn't exactly a brave creature, especially considering it's actually boneless. It doesn't have the fins a fish might, or the kind of tail you've come to expect, and it has cartilage, but no real bones. Instead, its body is much more like a limp noodle that can wiggle any which way it pleases. It can fit into small spaces and can even wiggle its way into the mud when it's trying to hide from predators. There are times when the hagfish will even wind itself into knots, either to get into a tight spot or to help with digestion and to keep itself from choking on its own mucous. This guy is definitely more a silly spaghetti piece than an evil ocean monster.

  • They Have A Total Of Four Hearts, So They Can Love You The Most

    They Have A Total Of Four Hearts, So They Can Love You The Most
    Photo: BioDivLibrary / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    It's not the outside that counts, it's the inside... and the hagfish has some seriously weird and cool insides. This critter has a very primitive circulatory system that hasn't changed for a very long time. It has four hearts beating inside it with one that serves as a main pump, guiding all the others. The other three are accessory pumps, and all the hearts work together to keep the animal happy and healthy. These other hearts might be so important because the hagfish has such a loose skin that it needs to fill every cavity between the skin and body with some sort of fluid. That fluid happens to be blood, twice as much than with any other fish its size, and the animal may just need that many hearts in order to keep that blood flowing... or to love you the most.

  • When They're Scared, They Just Get Slimy

    When They're Scared, They Just Get Slimy
    Photo: NOAA Photo Library / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    If you were a boneless, eyeless, and mostly squishy little fish, you'd probably be pretty scared of predators, too. Luckily, the hagfish has a very special adaptation that it uses in order to save itself from those who would try to eat it.

    Besides tying themselves into a knot to enable them to slither away, they can also make themselves incredibly slimy. When something comes after them, glands lining their bodies create these sticky protein threads that then go into the water. When they meet the seawater, they expand and become a sticky sort of goo. They can create so much that they can fill actual buckets with the stuff in minutes! This goo can then choke or distract the predator, and can even clog a bigger fish's gills and kill them. The substance can even ward off sharks. There's more to this slime than just grossing out predators.

  • Their Slime Is Flippin' Incredible

    Their Slime Is Flippin' Incredible
    Photo: dirtsailor2003 / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Hagfish slime is unusual and amazing enough that even humans have taken note to its unique properties. The stuff is made up of thin, super strong protein threads and go from only about a teaspoon to a full bread loaf in size when they expand after interacting with sea water. These threads are a hundred times smaller than a human hair, but ten times as strong as nylon. As you might guess, this could come in handy as a building material. Scientists are trying to see what they can be used for, and we may see things woven from hagfish slime in the near future.

    If you need a real life example of just how big an impact this slime can have, take a look at what happened when a truck carrying the fish got into an accident in Oregon. It startled the hagfish so much that they threw slime pretty much everywhere, freezing cars in their tracks with its strength. They had to bring in an actual bulldozer in order to clear the roadway again!