Sooner or later we all have to eat our words, and today it’s my slimy turn. Here’s part of what I wrote about slime eels, also known as hagfish, in my 1996 book Spineless Wonders: Strange Tales of the Invertebrate World:
Among other habits that have endeared them to seafarers, slime eels like to enter dead or dying bodies on the ocean bottom by way of mouth, gills, or anus, and gobble up everything except bones and skin, which remain intact. Fish immobilized in gill nets are particularly susceptible. In one study in the Gulf of Maine, slime eels gutted 3 percent to 5 percent of the catch. J. B. Heiser, a biologist at Cornell University’s Shoals Marine Laboratory in Maine, describes what’s left of the fish as “a bag of bones, literally . .. like it had been sucked dry by a high- powered vacuum cleaner.”
Slime eels are often still inside the fish when the bloated gill net spills its contents onto the fisherman’s deck, and Heiser, who has opened up several specimens, says the hags ensconced in their victim are typically well-fed and at ease, “smiling, slimy, usually snoring—gently.” In one case, the record, a single cod contained 123 slime eels, in a pink, wriggling mass.
It is a disheartening sight for fishermen, touching some source of horror beyond mere economic loss. One fisheries expert has attributed this horror to the slime itself: “Being worthless . . . the hag is an unmitigated nuisance, and a particularly loathsome one owing to its habit of pouring out slime from its mucous sacs in quantity out of all proportion to its small size. One hag, it is said, can easily fill a two-gallon bucket, nor do we think this any exaggeration.”
But, oh, how wrong, how terribly narrow-minded, of both me and my nameless expert, because hagfish slime is apparently destined to become the stuff of high fashion. ScienceDaily reports:
Nylon, Kevlar and other synthetic fabrics: Step aside. If new scientific research pans out, people may be sporting shirts, blouses and other garments made from fibers modeled after those in the icky, super-strong slime from Read the rest of this entry »