Many deep-sea animals look like they mean business: They can wield needlelike teeth, spit glowing mucus, or sport extendable jaws. But even amongst such extravagantly ugly company, a new species of deep-sea anglerfish stands out.
Dubbed Lasiognathus dinema, researchers stumbled on this beauty in 2011 while surveying a section of the northern Gulf of Mexico impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"At the time of the spill, we didn't have a lot of data [on] what lived deep in the Gulf," says Tracey Sutton, a fish expert at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked scientists to fix that. So Sutton and colleagues spent late 2010 and much of 2011 dragging nets and sensors through the water to survey life below 3,300 feet (1,000 meters).
They found roughly 50 species never seen before in the Gulf of Mexico—and their new snaggletoothed anglerfish species.
"I recognized it as a new species fairly quickly because it was so distinctive," says Sutton. "It doesn't even look like a real fish, it looks like a bad dream or something."
Sutton and colleagues found three specimens, all female, with the biggest one measuring 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) long.
The spikes on top of its snout are actually teeth, he explains. This fish's upper jaw flares up and out, curling its lips and projecting its teeth into the water.
There are tendons that run from one side of the fish's mouth to the other, which means its mouth likely closes on prey in a kind of upside-down Venus flytrap, the ichthyologist says.
"No one's seen this thing alive," Sutton adds, so how L. dinema hunts remains an educated guess for now. (Watch rare footage of a black sea devil fish.)
The same goes for the crazy lure on top of this fish's head. Anglerfish are known for this appendage, which they use to "fish" for prey, hence their common name. But the lure on L. dinema sports hooks that look like they'd rip right off if something bit down on them too hard, Sutton says.
Sutton has worked with deep-sea fish all over the world as part of the Census of Marine Life. But the Lasiognathus genus isn't very common, and was completely unknown from the Gulf of Mexico prior to this study.
"There's only 25 specimens of all five other species in this genus," he says. "So it's a really rare event to find one."
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