The Truth About Hagfish Slime

The opposite of gorgeous isn't hideous; it's hagfish. "Widely the most disgusting animals in the ocean, if not on earth," per Smithsonian, these appallingly jawless sea atrocities have tentacles surrounding their mouths and tooth-like keratin structures on whatever it is you call their non-jaws. That might seem like a harsh description of a creature that has no control over its unsightly looks, but that fish is way harsher on the eyes. In fact, they can't even look at themselves because according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, hagfish are blind. Their forebears could see 300 million years ago, but obviously the trauma of seeing each other forced them to evolve into blind fish to make reproduction bearable.

Of course, the grossest aspect of the hagfish is its slime. Also known as "snot snakes" and "slime eels," these tentacle-mouthed mucous monsters go full-on Slimer from Ghostbusters on different creatures. Deep sea ecologist Andrew David Thaler explained to Gizmodo, "The slime provides protection and helps isolate food. Hagfish have been observed escaping from sharks by choking them with enormous amounts of slime. When they feed on a carcass, the slime pours out, covering the carcass and preventing other scavengers from encroaching on their food."

The hagfish gives new meaning to "snot-rocket"

Thaler's lesson on the fighting and feeding habits of hagfish obviously raise some pressing questions, like, why on Earth would a shark attack a hagfish when there are so many better things to do, like starving to death instead? Also, are hagfish basically the worst version of that kid in school who likes to eat their own boogers? Did the hagfish evolve to like the taste of its own snot because if not, it's hard to fathom how they could tolerate munching on corpses that they effectively sneezed on beforehand. 

Apparently hagfish slime isn't just good for grossing out sharks or making raw seafood even slimier. Because the substance is tough and doesn't dry out, researchers have wondered whether it can be used "to stop bleeding in accident victims, or make sustainable fabrics for clothes." The US Navy has even looked into whether hagfish slime could serve as an anti-missile defense. At the very least, the military knows aquatic snot can stop Jaws.