Creepy Critters: Marine Life Surfaces for Halloween
Claws, spines, spikes, tentacles, and fangs. Aliens, monsters, and ghostly apparitions glowing in the night. Marine life forms have some of the best looks for Halloween—no costumes needed. From freaky fish lurking beneath the surface to creepy crawlies of the deep, meet some of the sea’s strangest and most haunting characters.
The aptly named fangtooth fish has long, menacing teeth. The fangs are so long, that they aren't able to close their mouths! They are able to eat crustaceans and fish, despite the large teeth. But this "monster of the deep" is not as scary as it may seem--it only reaches about 17 cm (6 inches) in length.
© David Shale
Glowing Sucker Octopus
This billowing red octopod (Stauroteuthis syrtenis) would be a sight to see in the dark of the deep sea. Its rows of suckers flash on and off with bioluminescence as it uses the netting in between its eight arms to swim in the ocean off the eastern U.S. Although the species was known for at least 100 years, it wasn't until 1999 that researchers realized it glowed.
© David Shale
The ghoulish blob sculpin, a deepwater fish that can be found off the Pacific coast of the U.S., is reminiscent of a famous terrestrial monster from 1950s horror film classic "The Blob."
NOAA, Alaska Fisheries Science Center
The Bobbit WormThere aren't any mummies or zombies buried under the seafloor: instead the ocean has its own terror from below, the bobbit worm (Eunice aphroditois). A couple inches wide and up to ten feet long, the bobbit worm stays hidden under tropical sands with just its five antennae poking out—waiting. When it senses prey above, it moves with speed and strength to grab them, sometimes splitting its fishy prey in half with its sharp teeth! It also injects them with a toxin to help break down its food to make it easier to digest.
Flickr user JennyHuang
Who is that fish coming out of the gloomy dark? A rarely seen Rhinochimera (Harriotta sp.)! Rhinochimera are a type of cartilaginous fish, closely related to sharks and rays. These deep ocean dwellers have big greenish eyes that help them to spot their prey—likely deep-sea invertebrates and fish.
NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, 2013 Northeast U.S. Canyons Expedition
Blackdevil fish are quintessential monsters from the deep. The female lurks in the dark, drawing in prey with her glowing lure, while the male attaches to her like a blood-sucking parasite.
E. Widder, ORCA (www.teamorca.org)
Zombie Worms Eating Whale Bone
Zombie worms may be tiny, at only 1 to 3 inches long, but they eat away at the bones of large dead whales on the deep-sea floor. They eat differently than we do though. With no mouth or anus the worms make an acid that dissolves the bones and they absorb nutrients with the help of a symbiotic bacteria.
The Vampire Squid from HellWith a scientific name that means "the vampire squid from hell," you'd expect the vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis) to be a fearsome predator terrorizing the deep. Despite its demonic look, that isn't the case; instead, the vampire squid collects and eats drifting particles called "marine snow" using two long, sticky filaments. It doesn't seem like much food to fuel a foot-long cephalopod, but it's enough for it's slow lifestyle in dark, low-oxygen water with few predators.
(c) 2004 MBARI
Black SwallowerImagine eating an entire fish bigger than you—bones and all! At only 25 cm long, the black swallower often eats fish much larger than itself with the help of an expanding stomach. Sometimes the meal is so large that there isn’t enough time for digestion before it starts to decompose. Unfortunately for this fish, decomposition of its stomach contents releases gas, which can float the fish to the ocean surface from its deep-sea home.
Flickr user Lea Lee
The Toothy Sea WolfWith gnarled teeth and a perpetual frown, the sea wolf is a creature out of our nightmares! But despite its fearsome look, it isn't a danger to humans, largely preying on whelks, crabs, and sea urchins. Because Atlantic wolffish (Anarhichas lupus) live in the cold waters of the northern Atlantic, they produce a natural antifreeze that keeps their blood from freezing.
Flickr user Kamil Porembiński
An alien life form from a distant galaxy? No, it’s a giant isopod (a crustacean related to shrimps and crabs) from the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. These creatures are scary to look at, but you likely can get out of their way, unless you are slow-mover as well, like their prey—sponges, sea cucumbers and even dead fish, whales and squid. The slower you are the easier it is to grab lunch.
Image courtesy of Expedition to the Deep Slope 2006 Exploration, NOAA Vents Program
A Shortnose Greeneye Fish Aglow
Under white light, this shortnose greeneye fish looks unimpressive. But, in dim blue light—the type usually seen at depth—it shows its true ghoulish fluorescent colors.
Image Courtesy Edie Widder
Chimaera from the Deep
This rarely seen smalleyed rabbitfish, belongs to the order Chimaera. Chimaeras are related to sharks and are cartilaginous animals—they have no real bones.
© David Shale
The Goblin SharkThe goblin shark (Mistukurina owstoni) is one of the creepier fish out there! It has a long, prominent snout covered with special sensing organs (ampullae of Lorenzini) that help it to sense electric fields in the deep, dark water it calls home. But even stranger is its jaw. Though close to the head in this picture, it can be extended to the length of its snout to help the goblin shark ambush fish, squids and crustaceans.
Dianne Bray / Museum Victoria
Ghost Crab Close Up
What’s that animal popping out of its hole to say boo? A Ghost crab! These ghoulish crabs come out at night to eat their favorite meal…other crabs! The crabs are often seen scuttling quickly along beaches at night, when they emerge from their burrows to feed. They are common in Moorea, an island in the Pacific Ocean, where this specimen was collected.
Joseph Poupin, Institut de Recherche de l'Ecole Naval
Venus Fly-Trap Anemone in the Gulf of Mexico
A venus purse anemone looks like it would fit right in at the Little Shop of Horrors. Resembling the carnivorous Venus flytrap that we are familiar with on land, this anemone is typically in the Gulf of Mexico. Found on the floor of the deep sea, it waits until tiny particles drift onto its tentacles and then fires small stinging harpoons called nematocysts to capture them as food.
I. MacDonald (in Gulf of Mexico–Origin, Waters, and Biota. Vol. 1. Biodiversity. Felder, D. L. and Camp, D. K. (eds.) 2009. Texas A&M Press.
Sound the Alarms
Sound the alarm, a monster is headed your way! This monster is a Coronate jellyfish (Atolla wyvillei), sometimes known as an alarm jelly. When a predator is nearby the jelly will release blue light to attract bigger predators to eat or scare their enemy away. Scientists use this technique to get a better look at deep-sea creatures.
Scott C. France, Bahamas Deep-Sea Corals 2009 Exploration, NOAA-OER
Howl at the Moon!
What’s that majestic orb? Not the moon but a moon jelly (Aurelia aurita)! Moon jellies are 95 percent water, but that doesn’t stop them from eating planktonic mollusks, crustaceans, young polychaetes and more.
Skeleton shrimp are amphipods (a type of crustacean related to shrimp and crabs). They have grasping legs to hang onto their surroundings as they sway with the current and use their front claws to grab their food—algae, detritus, and copepods. This tiny species only reaches a length of about one-eighth an inch (the female is smaller, only a tenth of an inch, seen here on the left) and is found in a cave off of the California coast on Catalina Island. The species was formally named in 2013 and was named one of the "Top Ten New Species" from that year by the International Institute for Species Exploration.
SINC Agency, Spain & Guerra-García, José Manuel