Teeth bigger than its stomach…

Posted: September 27, 2014 in Fish

As we have previously established on this blog, the deep sea is full of horrors, even more so than the rest of Nature. Mainly, this is because of the conditions down there. Light is scarce, so animals have to have huge eyes, to make the most of whatever light there is down there. And whilst sometimes, large eyes can be cute (see Fig. A.) , they can also serve to be incredibly creepy (see Fig. B).

Fig. A. Don’t worry, this is probably the only time you’ll ever see this picture on this blog.



Fig B. Hatchetfish (Argyropelecus aculeatus). Image from anotheca.com.

Many animals in the deep sea are either black or red, which are generally not colours associated with happy, helpful and harmless beasts (see Fig. C.).

Fig. C. – Black widow (Ladrodectus hesperus). Admittedly, it isn’t from the deep sea, but it shows the point, and you can never have too many pictures of spiders. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

This is because most red light is absorbed by the water by the time one reaches the aptly and needlessly ominously named ‘Twilight Zone’; so any animal which is black or red, as well as proclaiming its allegiance to anarcho-syndicalism, is also pretty much invisible to predators. Finally, because food is (generally) so rare in the depths, predators have to be prepared to be able to eat almost anything; no matter how big it is – so most predators have large, gaping mouths that are best described as ‘maws’ and elastic stomachs (see Fig. D. ). What makes these animals extra-strange is their sheer weirdness, as well (see Fig. E. ).


Fig D. Angler fish (species not given). Image from allthatisinteresting.com

Fig. E – the Goblin Shark, Mitsukurina owstoni (Image from Lmaoguys.com)

So alien are these animals that many of them die as they are brought to the surface, much as an unprotected human would very swiftly die if they were sat down on the ocean floor with nothing but Scuba gear. As the pressures in the deep sea are so strong, the animals down there have adapted physiologically – and even at the molecular level, their cell membranes are more fluid than an animal living ‘higher’ up, as the enormous pressures alter the biochemical interactions within the animal. As they’re brought to the surface, however, they die – or at least become very sick – as their swim bladders (or other air filled cavities) expand, and the biochemistry within the animal changes.
After showing you enough Figs to serve up a pretty decent starter*, you may be wondering why we’ve decided to feature Anoplogaster cornuta as a Horrific Animal of the World

*We apologise for that pun; and promise that the intern responsible will undergo a thorough disciplinary procedure.

After all, in common with many deep-sea fish, and proving that Nature is not entirely without mercy, it is rather small, obtaining a maximum length of 18 cm; and its close cousin, A. brachycera, reaches barely a third of that. This is actually fairly common in the deep sea – it saves on resources.

Indeed, the real reason why we featured this fish is simply because of its name.

And its easy to see why it got that name. Look at the name. Look at the picture below. Look at the name again. Look at the picture.

Stop looking if you feel dizzy. (Image from monterybayaquarium.org)

Isn’t that name just, somehow, entirely appropriate? The most obvious thing about that fish is its fangs. It doesn’t even matter about the rest of the fish. The first thing you notice about it is the fangs. Admittedly, ‘fangtooth’ actually makes little sense – since a fang is just a tooth. But, as ever when faced with the nightmares of the abyss, logic seems to twist, and calling a fish basically ‘tooth tooth’ makes perfect sense. These teeth are supposedly the largest teeth (proportional to the animal’s size) of any vertebrate alive on the planet today. They are so large that there are sockets on the upperside of the mouth, to accommodate the teeth when the fish closes its mouth. And, according to David Attenborough, the fish can never completely close their mouths, due to the sheer size of the teeth.


Of course, they have these teeth due to the shortage of food in the deep ocean – and they live very, very deep indeed, some specimens being found at 5000 metres deep (although  most are found considerably higher up, at 200-2000 metres down – which is still plenty deep). As food is so rare, the fish needs to be able to capture, kill and eat as many other animals as possible – and larger teeth means it can tackle larger prey.
What is slightly curious about these fish is that their scientific genus name, Anoplogaster, actually refers to the animal’s stomach (Wikipedia says it translates to roughly “Unarmed stomach” from the Greek, whilst Fishbase says it translates to “Up + shielded + stomach”. Either way, its a bold, or perhaps crazy, scientist, who can look at the toothy monstrosity below and think “That reminds me of an unarmed, or possibly up-shielded, stomach”.

“Yes, that definitely looks completely defenceless”. (Image from deepseacreatures.org)

Oh, and remember what we were saying there at the start – about deep sea organisms generally being confined to the deep sea simply because their biology is simply too specialized for the upper waters? That doesn’t exactly apply to the Fangtooth. Indeed, taking a leaf out of the Stephen King school of biology, they emerge from the darkness of the deep sea at night, and hunt in the upper waters (a behaviour called diel migration). When day comes, and the increased light means they would be more vulnerable to predators, they sink back down to the depths again. What’s more, various sources (by which we mean poorly referenced internet sites) appear to imply that they can actually survive in surface aquriaums for many months, even when those aquriums barely mimic their natural habitat. Normally, deep sea organisms die fairly swiftly in captivity, but the fangtooth is robust enough to survive the change.

‘Delicate flower’ in no way describes this fish. (Image from Telegraph.co.uk.)


On the plus side, it is very small. So, on your list of ‘things to worry about’, ‘Fangtooth fishes infesting our coastlines’ is probably somewhat below, say, “Terrorism”, “Ebola” and “the Wandering Spider that is definitely in your house right now”, and only slightly above “whether the tinfoil hat I wear to protect my head from government mind control satellites makes me look silly” .


Really, the problem is with that collar.







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