Science & Technology

The Nightmarish Mariana Snailfish Lives Deeper in the Ocean Than Anything We've Ever Found

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It's just plain fact that deep-sea animals are what nightmares are made of. In 2017, researchers revealed details on the deepest-dwelling fish ever found, and let's just say its look is entirely on-brand.

Beauty Fades, Creepy Is Forever

The Mariana snailfish sounds lovely — a name that simultaneously calls to mind feminine beauty and the adorable quaintness of Spongebob's pet Gary. Well, this ocean creature is ... not that. The Mariana snailfish (Pseudoliparis swirei) can accurately be described as a slithering raw chicken breast. It's not disgusting (okay, CT scan images may disagree with that claim), but it's not necessarily attractive either. The fish, about the length of two cigars, has scaleless, translucent skin on a tailed snot-ball of a body. As an added bonus, its black eggs are unusually large — almost a centimeter wide. It's not beautiful, but it is record-breaking.

This species of snailfish was first caught in 2014 and again in 2017 at nearly 5 miles (8 km) deep in the Mariana Trench in the western Pacific, near Guam. That, by the way, is almost as deep as Mount Everest is tall. It wasn't until November 2017 that researchers finally described the Mariana snailfish in a scientific journal.

Surprisingly, this organism isn't the anglerfish-esque fright fest most associate with the deep ocean. "By the time you get this deep, fish take a really different form. They have no scales, no big teeth, and they're not bioluminescent—that we know of," Mackenzie Gerringer, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories, tells National Geographic.

How Low Can You Go?

There is a ton of uncharted territory in the deep sea; that much is true. While the deepest depths of the ocean extend another two miles farther down than where we found the snailfish, scientists think we're unlikely to ever find a fish that lives much deeper. The pressure down there is so massive that no fish would be able to take it. As NatGeo reports, the fish "may be chemically unable to withstand [the pressure's] destabilizing effects on proteins below about 8,200 meters." The snailfish may just have something special.

As Thomas Linley of Newcastle University, a co-author of the paper, said in a statement, "Snailfishes have adapted to go deeper than other fish and can live in the deep trenches. Here they are free of predators, and the funnel shape of the trench means there's much more food. There are lots of invertebrate prey and the snailfish are the top predator. They are active and look very well-fed." The tiny snailfish is thought to be able to handle pressures equal to the weight of 1,600 elephants. Maybe we shouldn't be fearing these deep-dwelling weirdos, but applauding them.

For more glimpses of the alien creatures that inhabit the deep sea, check out "Creatures of the Deep: "In Search of the Sea's Monsters and the World They Live In" by Erich Hoyt. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Mariana Snailfish Feeding on the Ocean Floor

Written by Joanie Faletto December 28, 2017