Pacific Hagfish

Pacific Hagfish (Eptatretus stoutii) as seen in our Coastal Waters exhibit.

Hagfish have elongated, eel-like bodies, and paddle-like tails. They have cartilaginous skulls and tooth-like structures composed of keratin. Colors depend on the species, ranging from pink to blue-grey, and may have black or yellow spots. Eyes may be vestigial. Despite their name, there is some debate about whether hagfish are strictly fish since they belong to a much more primitive lineage than any other group that is commonly defined as fish.

When captured and held by the head, they escape by secreting the fibrous slime, which turns into a thick and sticky gel when combined with water, and then cleaning off by tying themselves in an overhand knot which works its way from the tail to the head of the animal, scraping off the slime as it goes. Hagfish enter both living and dead fish, feeding on the insides. While having no ability to enter through skin, they often enter through natural openings such as the mouth, gills or anus and consume their prey from the inside out. They can be a great nuisance to fishermen, as they are known to infiltrate and devour a catch before it can be pulled to the surface.

Their unusual feeding habits and slime-producing capabilities have led members of the scientific and popular media to dub the hagfish as the most “disgusting" of all sea creatures. Hagfish are sometimes called "slime eels," although they are not eels at all.


Range & Habitat

Pacific Hagfish are common from southeast Alaska to central Baja California. They live at or near the bottom over mud, sand or rocks.


Conservation Status

Common.

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