By Bram ‘Crowley’ Stoker
There’s plenty of weird and scary-looking fish and critters underwater that – even if they’re perfectly harmless – most people wouldn’t want to meet, especially on a night-dive, when you’ve become separated from your buddy, and the battery in your flashlight is failing fast, and you start hearing the opening strains of The Twilight Zone underneath your hoodie. Remember: underwater, nobody can hear you scream.
Well, okay, if you shout loudly enough then yes, you can be quite easily heard underwater, actually. But just imagine it’s Hallowe’en. Here’s some underwater critters that might at the very least put you off your dinner, if they go bumping into you on the night dive…
Deep sea anglerfish
The term ‘anglerfish’ covers a number of different species, all of whom have one thing in common: a bioluminescent lure that they can swing from the top of their heads to attract their prey, before sinking in a set of gnashers that would impress even Dracula. Definitely a case of having a face that ‘only a mother could love’, and well – it would have to be a mother, because mates are hard to find in the inky blackness of the deep sea.
In fact, so deep-sea dating is so difficult that the females of some anglerfish species form a very close, lifelong bond with the males. So close, in fact, that the male’s head is permanently fused into the female’s body, effectively turning him into a portable sack of nuts. Who said romance was dead?
Not so much a scary fish but definitely an ugly fish. Whoever gave the blobfish its name was perhaps a little bit lazy, possibly a little bit mean, but definitely scientifically accurate. Psychrolutes marcidus lives between 600-1,200m near the seafloor where to be fair, they look a lot less blobby than they do up here.
They never visit the surface (with a face like that, who would?), but they are sometimes accidentally brought up as bycatch and their gelatinous bodies – like lots of other fish – can’t cope with gravity.
Voted ‘World’s Ugliest Animal’ in 2013.
The very strange-looking frilled shark (Chlamydoselachus anguineus) is one of the oldest surviving species of shark in the water – and therefore among the oldest animals to have ever inhabited the planet – with some estimates dating the species to around 150 million years. That’s twice as old as the last living dinosaur (that we know of), and 149.9 million years older than humans.
The frilled shark is found from the poles to the Equator in both the Atlantic and the Pacific, and while it definitely looks weird and just a wee bit scary, it is not thought to be at all dangerous.
Looking for all the world like a giant woodlouse, but orders of magnitude nastier, giant isopods are a group of crustaceans comprised of at least 20 individual species. Evil in appearance if not by nature, they thrive in cold, deep water, and range in size from 5cm and upwards. The largest model, Bathynomus giganteus (pictured above), can reach up to 76cm in length and weighs in at close to 2kg.
Just out of interest, woodlice are, in fact, crustaceans, not insects, and therefore B. giganticus is a distant relative – as are shrimp, crabs and other underwater shelled creatures.
Now that you know this, you’ll never unsee the picture above, and an image of the giant isopod and its little woodlouse pal will pop into your head every time you order prawns, or crack into a lobster.
The weird-looking goblin shark was discovered near Yokohama, Japan, and takes its common name from the Japanese word tenguzame, a creature of Japanese mythology similar to the goblins of western mythology and – well – because it looks like a goblin.
Mitsukurina owstoni is, like the frilled shark, one of the oldest living species of fish in the water, coming in at around 125 million years old. The elongated ‘nose’ gives it a fairly evil appearance, and at up to 3m long, it’s probably best not to encounter one while night diving, as the diver in the movie above discovered when one lunged in for a quick nibble. The jaws extend considerably when it feeds, adding to the rather scary, nightmarish look.
‘The Thing’ is an unknown species of polychaete worm that is occasionally sighted in the Caribbean islands of Curaçao, Bonaire and St Lucia, and is listed in fish ID books simply as ‘The Thing’. It is probably a relative of the creature pictured above which is the Australian version and known as the Bobbit worm.
They say a picture tells a thousand words but what this one doesn’t tell is the story of the thousand legs. These giant worms look for all the world like giant centipedes but reaching over 2m in length and with infinitely more appendages. They are so rare that there aren’t many pictures on the internet, but you can find some close-up shots of The Thing in St Lucia in this article.
Almost as strange as the Bobbit worm’s weird appearance, its scientific name is Eunice aphroditois. Given that Aphrodite is the goddess of love, it seems likely that whoever named it was taking the mickey, or had been in the pub waaaaay too long.
A fish as deserving of its name as it would be had it been given a starring role in an underwater version of Game of Thrones. Dragonfish are a group of aggressive deep-sea predators, and the very weird and scary- looking Sloane’s viperfish (Chauliodus sloani, pictured above) is the current world-record holder for tooth-to-body size of any living fish known to science, so large that the fish is unable to properly close its mouth.
It hunts by opening its jaws and rushing at its prey, impaling its dinner in much the same way as any decent horror movie hero impales the undead. Fortunately, it lives very deep in the ocean and only grows to around 30cm – but one bite is all it takes…
Wolves look graceful, powerful, beautiful and majestic. Wolf eels do not.
Growing to around 2.5m in length, Anarrhichthys ocellatus is mostly harmless to humans, although like the more common moray eels, if you poke around in its den, you’re going to lose whatever you’re poking with. Resident of the cooler waters of the North Pacific, wolf eels often mate for life, take up residence in a small cave and take turns guarding their eggs as the other adult goes foraging for crustaceans and shellfish.
Rather a family-oriented sort of fish, really, and not at all scary. Just comes up a little short in the department of fairer features.
No round-up of Hallowe’en-themed weird and scary-lookinh aquatic life would be complete without the vampire squid. Unlike other species that sound dangerous but have deceptively boring scientific names,Vampyroteuthis infernalis quite literally translates as ‘the vampire squid from hell’.
The name might be a little undeserved, however, as it doesn’t have fangs, the spines on the underside of its tentacles are harmless and it doesn’t suck blood. Possibly whoever named it had been up a little late reading Bram Stoker novels with a tad too much absinthe.
A nightmare on YOUR street
If there was one thing that human beings should fear most about our oceans today, it’s not toothy, bitey, scary fish or weird and ugly monsters, even though – seriously – after the isopod you’re never going to look at a prawn cocktail the same way again.
No, if there’s one thing to be afraid of, it’s not the creatures that are living under the waves, it’s the monstrous creation that is killing them en masse. Plastic in our seas has become a nightmare of epic proportions, and the results of its presence would turn the stomachs of even the hardiest of bloodthirsty horror movie fanatics.
Hallowe’en probably started out somewhere in our distant past as a ritual to appease the souls of the dead, drive out evil spirits and set the world to rights before winter set in. It would seem that’s as good a reason as any to start thinking more carefully about our use of plastic, and what we do with it afterwards.
Enjoy the evening, don’t let the trick-or-treaters rob you blind (or egg your car), recycle the sweet wrappers and the costume packaging and then perhaps we can start to set the world to rights. Again.
More great reads with weird and scary creatures
- Deep Dive Dubai showcases humanoid OceanOneK robot explorer - 3 October 2023
- Sunken temple found off Egypt’s Mediterranean coast - 2 October 2023
- Nudibranchs & Whales: an extract from Helen Scales’ Around the Ocean in 80 Fish - 29 September 2023