From hairy frogs to horse-faced bats, the world is full of unique-looking creatures. And then there’s the blobfish. When drawn up from its underwater habitat, Psychrolutes marcidus resembles of pile of disgruntled phlegm. Here are seven facts about the fish with a face only a mother could love.
1. ONE FISH MADE THEM FAMOUS.
Since 2003, one fish has served as the (unfortunate-looking) face of the animal: Mr. Blobby. The specimen was trawled up from its home more than 3300 feet deep by the crew of the NORFANZ expedition off the coast of New Zealand. Smitten scientists gave the blobfish his endearing nickname and snapped his now iconic picture, perfected by a mucousy parasite (a copepod) dangling from the corner of his mouth. Today Mr. Blobby is kept in a 70 percent ethyl alcohol solution at the Australian Museum. According to the institution, the preservation process has shrunk his nose, so he no longer looks as “cute” as he used to.
2. THEY DON’T LOOK HALF BAD 4000 FEET DEEP.
Most people familiar with the blobfish have only seen images of the sad, flaccid monstrosity out of water. But at the bottom of the ocean—where the fish is actually meant to be—it’s much easier on the eyes. Blobfish are typically found 2000 to 4000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface. At those depths, inhabitants experience up to 120 times the pressure they would on dry land. Blobfish don’t have much bone or muscle, instead allowing the extreme pressure of the deep sea to provide their bodies structural support.
3. THEY DON’T HAVE A SWIM BLADDER.
To stay buoyant, most fish have something called a swim bladder. These internal air sacs allow fish to maneuver through the water without sinking. Such an organ would burst under the pressures of the deep ocean, so instead blobfish rely on their gelatinous flesh to keep them barely floating above the seafloor. This means that when blobfish are taken out of the ocean, they don’t need to worry about rapidly expanding swim bladders pushing their guts out through their mouths. What it does mean is that the same skin that provides them with natural buoyancy underwater relaxes into a flabby mess without pressure.
4. THEY’RE NOT VERY ACTIVE.
There isn’t much food to come by at the bottom of the ocean, so the blobfish has evolved to conserve its energy. It spends most of its time chilling above the seafloor, only moving to open its mouth when something edible approaches. This is an effective hunting method for a creature with barely any muscle. Some of the food it catches includes crabs, mollusks, and sea urchins.
5. THEY WERE VOTED THE “WORLD’S UGLIEST ANIMAL.”
When the Ugly Animal Preservation Society was in need of a new mascot, they decided to let the people select one for them. In September 2013, over 3000 online votes were cast for the “World’s Ugliest Animal,” with the blobfish racking up 795 of them. It bested the proboscis monkey, the aquatic scrotum frog, and pubic lice for the top honor. According to the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, the blobfish gives a voice to the “mingers who always get forgotten.”
6. THEY’RE A POP CULTURE SENSATION.
Rather than recoiling from this animal in disgust, the world (or at least the internet) has come to embrace the blobfish. It’s inspired songs, poems, plush dolls, and t-shirts. There’s even a blobfish cafe set to open in London in summer 2017. According to the cafe's website, the space will feature a pressurized tank containing three live blobfish named Barry, Lorcan, and Lady Swift.
7. THEY STILL REMAIN A MYSTERY.
Because blobfish live thousands of feet below sea level, there’s still a lot we’ve yet to learn about these JELLO-like members of the animal kingdom. Scientists still don’t know how long blobfish live or how they reproduce. On that last point, the Australian Museum’s fish manager Mark McGrouther told Smithsonian last year, “I’d guess they lock in a clinging, rather conjugal embrace.”