Bizarre-Looking New Species of Anglerfish Discovered

Theodore Pietsch, Ph.D. University of Washington
Theodore Pietsch, Ph.D. University of Washington / Theodore Pietsch, Ph.D. University of Washington

Most deep-sea anglerfish look like creatures from another world, but the newest species, discovered by a researcher at Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, is the strangest-looking yet.

Tracey Sutton, Ph.D., discovered the animal—a new species of Ceratioid anglerfish called Lasiognathus dinema—in the northern Gulf of Mexico at depths between 3281 feet and 4921 feet. Sutton and the University of Washington’s Theodore Pietsch, Ph.D., formally described the newly discovered fish in the journal Copeia.

Anglerfish live at depths where light from the surface cannot penetrate, and the females attract prey with flashing bioluminescent lures, or escas, attached to their heads. Believing they’ve found a meal, the prey approaches the anglerfish—and becomes a meal itself.

Males are much smaller than females and, in some species, actually attach themselves to the females, losing nonessential parts like eyes and fins, and providing sperm when it’s time to spawn. (John Sparks, a curator in the American Museum of Natural History's Department of Ichthyology, told mental_floss last year that only five of 11 species in the suborder Ceratioidei have this parasite-host relationship, and there’s no information available yet about how this newest species does the deed.)

According to the paper, this new species, described from three females, is “not especially similar to any of the five previously described members of the genus.” Especially exciting is the animal's esca, which, the scientists write, is “cylindrical ... bearing three lightly pigmented, strongly curved bony hooks and a pair of filamentous, tapering prolongations,” which are honored in its scientific name: Dinema comes from the Greek di, for two, and nema, for thread.

"Finding this new species reinforces the notion that our inventory of life in the vast ocean interior is far from complete," Sutton said in a press release. "Every research trip is an adventure and another opportunity to learn about our planet and the varied creatures who call it home."

The three type specimens will be housed in the world's largest deep-sea anglerfish collection at the University of Washington.