Scientists stunned to capture first mating footage of bizarre anglerfish

23 Mar 2018

A hairy frogfish (Antennarius striatus), a relative of the anglerfish family and somewhat similar in appearance to the fanfin angler. Image: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock

One of nature’s strangest fish has been filmed mating for the first time, and researchers are saying it is even more shocking than they thought.

A team of marine biologists working around Portugal’s Azores islands have witnessed something truly incredible: the mating of two anglerfish.

The rather ugly and strange-looking fish has managed to evade detection for the most part by science, with many of our observed samples coming from ones that washed up on the beach or were found dead and later preserved.

Future Human

Yet now, Science reports that this team has returned the first ever footage of two anglerfish mating in what is certainly one of the most unique rituals in nature.

As the footage shows, the much smaller male anglerfish is fused to the underside of the female, providing sperm, and will continue to latch on until it dies and its body wastes away.

“I’ve been studying these [animals] for most of my life and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Ted Pietsch from the University of Washington.

While there are more than 160 known species of anglerfish, this new video is one of only a handful to actually show the fish alive, and this latest one has even more significance.

“So, you can see how rare and important this discovery is,” Pietsch added. “It was really a shocker for me.”

Hat-trick of new discoveries

Aboard the submersible that captured the film was the husband and wife team of Kirsten and Joachim Jakobsen, who had been approaching the end of a five-hour expedition 800m below sea level.

After spotting “something with a funny form”, the pair followed the creature for nearly half an hour. It was later revealed to be a Caulophryne jordani, otherwise known as the fanfin angler.

Adding to the importance of the special footage, the creature can be seen to emit bioluminescence from the tips of its long, whisker-like structures on its face that are used to attract prey – this had never been seen before.

To make it a hat-trick of surprising finds, the team was shocked to find that the male – which effectively becomes a sperm and nutrient sack for the female once attached – is actually able to move around more than we once thought.

Bruce Robinson, a deep-sea ecologist from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, said: “There’s no way I would have ever guessed that from a [museum] specimen.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic