And You Thought Your Love Life Was Complicated….

True, there may be “plenty of fish in the sea” as your optimistic friends assure you, but if the fish in your particular ocean are anything like parasitical  male anglerfish, you may be better off swimming alone.

I’ve been thinking about anglerfish since I visited the American Museum of Natural History’s temporary exhibit, Creatures of Light about bioluminescence in nature.  They have a gigantic version of a female anglerfish hanging from the ceiling and she sure is freaky-looking.

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According to information at the museum and Wikipedia, it’s hard for girl and boy anglerfish to find food (and each other) in the vast darkness of the deep ocean where they live, so they have developed several unusual methods to get both food and dates.   Female anglerfish glow – they have a bony spine thingy that lights up. They position the glowing thingy in front of their mouths and try to lure other fish over with  seaweed-looking, glowing tendrils that float around near their jaws. Other fish who come too close are dinner.  The bioluminescence derives both from chemicals in the female’s body and glowing bacteria she hosts.

Male anglerfish may use the females’ glow to find their beloveds, but the males also have a great sense of smell – they can smell the females’ pheromones in the water.  The males are desperate to find the females because the males are much, much smaller and they will die unless they can find a female to mooch off of.

This is what happens when the male finds the female, according to Wikipedia:

“When he finds a female, he bites into her skin, and releases an enzyme that digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level. The male then slowly atrophies, first losing his digestive organs, then his brain, heart, and eyes, and ends as nothing more than a pair of gonads”.   Got that? All that’s left of the teensy male are his gonads.

Once the female is ready to spawn, those gonads release sperm.  A female anglerfish may have several parasitical males attached to her at any time – ensuring a boyfriend when she needs one.  Hmm…

Creatures of Light will remain at the museum until January 6, 2013.  It is worth a visit – not only will you see the anglerfish exhibit, but also interesting displays about glowworms. fireflies, jelly fish and coral.


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