The green-eyed lizard fish has adapted wonderfully weirdly well to life at 8,000 feet below.
National Geographic calls it "menacing" and promises that it will give you nightmares. Asher Flatt, "onboard communicator" of the research vessel that found the fish, turns the horror narrative up a notch, writing (best read in a movie-trailer narrator's voice): "This terrifying terror of the deep is largely made up of a mouth and hinged teeth, so once it has you in its jaws there is no escape: the more you struggle the further into its mouth you go." But by the looks of things to me, this is just a supremely awesome creature that has adapted beautifully to life at the bottom of Australia's abyss.
The abyss is the largest and deepest habitat on the planet, according to Dr. Tim O’Hara who is leading an expedition of the area aboard the fish-finding research vessel the Investigator. "It covers half the world’s oceans and one third of Australia’s territory, but it remains the most unexplored environment on Earth," he writes. "We know that abyssal animals have been around for at least 40 million years, but until recently only a handful of samples had been collected from Australia’s abyss. We expect to catch everything from sea fleas, crabs, shrimps and snails, to anglerfishes, rattails, and sharks, and there will be a whole suite of animals that we’ve never seen before."
And they don't disappoint. So far they have brought up a "dragon fish that glows in the dark, carnivorous sponges that wield lethal weapons, a spine-chilling sea spider, and a fish that doesn't have a face," explains Nat Geo. Not to mention this latest addition to this alluring motley crew, the cute many-toothed Bathysaurux ferox – a baby of which is shown above, an adult below.
Literally meaning "fierce deep sea lizard," this ambush predator waits for its prey before pouncing upon the unsuspecting creature and introducing it to its impressive flexible teeth. But hey, we all have to eat, so kudos to these alien-to-us fish for coming up with ways (like growing a lot of teeth) to become the dominant predator in a place with few resources – namely, the bottom of the abyss, which reaches staggering depths of 3,000 to 8,000 feet.
And not only is food hard to find in such an extreme environment, but romance is challenging as well. Flatt writes:
And love can be even harder to find in the deep than a meal, a struggle that has nudged the lizard fish down the evolutionary path of a hermaphrodite. They have both male and female reproductive organs, so whatever other Bathysaurus ferox they come across will be Mr right and Miss right.
The moral of the story? When the going gets tough, the tough get a lot of teeth and become hermaphrodites.
And while I hate that these creatures don't appear to survive the research, the scientists are doing incredible work. Hopefully, highlighting the incredible diversity of marine life will go towards increasing awareness and concern about our oceans.
See John Pogonoski of the CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection, talk about the remarkable lizard fish below.