malacosteus niger

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The horrific visage of the Stoplight Loosejaw (Malacosteus niger).

Sutton, T. (2005) Trophic ecology of the deep-sea fish Malacosteus niger (Pisces: Stomiidae): An enigmatic feeding ecology to facilitate a unique visual system? Deep-Sea Research I 52 2065–2076.

Kenaley, C. (2012) Exploring feeding behaviour in deep-sea dragonfishes (Teleostei: Stomiidae): jaw biomechanics and functional significance of a loosejaw. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 106 224–240.

The Bestiary: Stoplight Loosejaw

The oceans are basically the real-life equivalent of Lovecraft’s universe: huge. dark, unknown and chock-full of the sort of stuff that would give Freddy Krüger nightmares. To showcase some of the lovely creatures of the deep deep down, I’ll write a few words about each one daily. Welcome to the Bestiary.

Today’s Episode: The Stoplight Loosejaw

Like I said, the ocean is scary. And what’s even scarier is the bottom of it. Like, we’re talking about the sort of scary that Wilbur Whateley checks under his bed for. The hellhole colloquially known as the bottom of the ocean is populated by creatures who are scary, ugly, bizarre, borderline eldritch and over all, ridiculously unique. Afterall, when you live in an unforgiving freezing cold, and nigh-perfectly dark abyss only populated by other monstrosities who have a weak spot for yourself meat  à la mode, and you have a weak spot for them meat à la mode, you gotta get creative. And the underwater connoisseur of creepy and creative is this thing.

Meet the amusingly idiotically-named Stoplight Loosejaw, also known by its slightly unpronouncable scientific name Malacosteus niger (muh-luh-coss-tee-us? Ma-lah-cuz-tea-as? How the fuck do I say this?). Not only does it look like something that just escaped from a Xenomorph’s large intestine, it’s one of the coolest deep sea animals ever, even trumping the anglerfish, considering that it’s basically an underwater combination of a pair of night-vision goggles and a beartrap.

This is how it works.

As we all know, the deep ocean is deep. So deep, in fact, that most frequencies of light don’t even reach down to where this scary-ass sonuvabitch spends its life. And when I say “most frequencies”, I mean “every single goddamn frequency aside from what we see as blue”. Because of this, most of the writhing, squamous horrors down there are pretty much unable to percieve any other colors; just how we are unable to percieve infrared as a color. This is because Momma Evolution looked at them and said “Oh hell, why would they need to see red if red light doesn’t even reach them? In fact, it’s better if they see as little as possible, I don’t want to deal with the psychological scars they would get from looking at each other.” So yeah, most deep-sea creatures can’t see red light.

Except for the Stoplight Motherfuckin’ Loosejaw, of course.

This… thing (let’s call it a fish for the sake of convenience) has a pair of bioluminescent organs, known as photophores under it’s dead, soulless eyes. Observe:

These photophores emit red light, which is completely unique among fish and is yet another reason why the Loosejaw is so awesome. Furthermore, the Loosejaw is the only deep-sea fish (along with its nearly identical sibling, the Southern Stoplight Loosejaw) that percieves red light. So yes, this means that it is basically equipped with a light source that noone else can see.

So when this wretched submarine terror is feels like it could use a snack, it just turns its night vision on and goes prrrrrowlin’. The best part is that it could turn the entire ocean floor into one big blood-red laser show and the other sea creatures wouldn’t give two fucks because they are unable to see red light. The Loosejaw could be banging a ladle against a pan and none of those dumbasses would even notice.

So the Loosejaw finds an unwitting eldritch abomination it deems tasty-looking enough and then it does this.

For the sake of clarity, what you’re seeing right now is a fish unhinging its own head from its fucking torso and opening its jaw to the point where it is quarter the size of its entire body.

Yup.

I don’t think I really need to detail what happens next to the unwitting eldritch abomination.

And this is, ladies and gentlemen, why the Stoplight Loosejaw is one of the creepiest, most over-the-top and most ridiculously awesome deep-sea creatures in the history of ever.

Also, it was discovered in 1848, the same year when a massive wave of rebellions swept through Europe. It has chosen to reveal itself right after a mayhem of anti-absolutist asskicking. This, and its hellish appearance are enough for me to consider that it was behind it all. Now I’m pretty sure it’s a minion of Satan.

after scientists discovered that deep-sea dragonfish had chlorophyll in their eyes, the US Pentagon began funding research for inexpensive night-vision eye drops.

In the 1990s, marine biologist Ron Douglas of City University London discovered that, unlike other deep-sea fish, the dragonfish Malacosteus niger can perceive red light. Douglas was surprised when he isolated the chemical responsible for absorbing red: It was chlorophyll. “That was weird,” he says. The fish had somehow co-opted chlorophyll, most likely from bacteria in their food, and turned it into a vision enhancer.

New Research Shows That Bioluminescence Evolved Frequently in Fish

New research shows that bioluminescence—a phenomenon in which organisms generate visible light through a chemical reaction—evolved many more times among marine fishes, and likely throughout the entire tree of life, than previously thought. In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, St. Cloud State University, and the University of Kansas reveal that bioluminescence evolved 27 times in marine ray-finned fishes—and 29 times if sharks and rays are counted. Here are some of these amazing bioluminescent fish:

Anglerfish
This ceratioid anglerfish has a built-in fishing rod, a modified fin spine topped with a lure that pulses with bacterial light. Anglerfishes are the only animals known to light up in two ways: the genus Linophryne has glowing bacteria in the lure and their own chemicals that make light in a complex chin barbel.
Image: © J. Sparks, R. Schelly, D. Roje

Hatchetfish 
The deep-sea hatchetfish, which gets its name from the distinct hatchet-like shape of its body, has light-producing organs known as photophores that run along the length of their body and point downward. Hatchetfishes use these structurally complex photophores to mimic any down-welling sunlight and disappear from predators lurking below.
Image: © J. Sparks, R. Schelly, D. Roje

Barbeled dragonfish 
This barbeled dragonfish is a small bioluminescent deep-sea fish with a long protrusion attached to its chin, known as a barbel, which is tipped with a light-producing organ called a photophore. It also has large photophores below its eyes used to illuminate prey and potentially communicate, and along the sides of its body for camouflage.
Image: © J. Sparks, R. Schelly, D. Roje

Stoplight loosejaw
A stoplight loosejaw (Malacosteus niger), which is capable of engulfing prey nearly as large as its own body. It has both red and blue/green photophores under its eyes. Its primary prey source, Euphausid shrimp, cannot detect red light. The loosejaw uses this “private” wavelength of light to illuminate and hunt the shrimp.
Image: © Christopher Martinez

Learn more about this research. 

New Research: Bioluminescence Evolved Frequently in Fish

New research shows that bioluminescence—a phenomenon in which organisms generate visible light through a chemical reaction—evolved many more times among marine fishes, and likely throughout the entire tree of life, than previously thought. In a study published in the journal PLOS ONE today, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History, St. Cloud State University, and the University of Kansas reveal that bioluminescence evolved 27 times in marine ray-finned fishes—and 29 times if sharks and rays are counted.

“Our findings completely change how we look at the evolution of bioluminescence across all life,” said John Sparks, curator-in-charge of the Museum’s Department of Ichthyology and a co-author of the paper, which is the first to explore how frequently bioluminescence evolved in vertebrates. “This suggests that we need to take a closer look at the evolution and diversification of other lineages with bioluminescent members.”

Read the full story and see more bioluminescent fish.

Image: A stoplight loosejaw (Malacosteus niger), which can engulf prey nearly as large as its own body, produces multiple colors of light.© C. Martinez