Meet Spongebob Satanpants, a Fish With a Past

Toad lumpsuckers clinging to fingers.
Toad lumpsuckers, like all lumpsuckers, are masters at using adhesives on their bellies to hitch on to things. NOAA's Alaska Fisheries Science Center

The deepest, darkest parts of the ocean are home to a cast of creatures so bizarre, they often seem like they can’t possibly be from this world.

Consider the gaping toothy maw of the angler fish, a jack-o'-lantern with fins. Or the trans-dimensional terror of the fish with no face.

But sometimes, we catch sight of a figure lurking in those depths that make us wonder if the bottom of the ocean might be connected to hell itself.

Take, for instance, this picture of a Pacific spiny lumpsucker. Leo Smith, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Kansas, tweeted it earlier this month.

The image of the creature — with bones glowing hellfire against a pitch-black background and vacant sockets that stare right into your soul — is chilling enough for even a scientist like Smith to call it "pretty demonic."

But Smith knows the Pacific spiny lumpsucker is no demon.

In fact, he captured the image with a microscope designed to bring out the luminescence of the fish’s uniquely spiky skeleton.

"The specimen lights itself, and everything else in the image disappears," he tells LiveScience.

And, of course, the most important factor in making his subject seem so spooky is that, in fact, it is a skeleton. No, not undead. But an actual skeleton of a fish that underwent a procedure called clearing and staining to accentuate its unique structural traits.

That, according to LiveScience, involved using enzymes from a cow’s stomach to dissolve muscle, while preserving the fish’s connective tissue. That would account for how we’re able to see through the skin and right down to the bones.

Then Smith used brilliant dyes to really bring out the intricacies of that skeleton and cartilage.

And finally, he captured an image of the fish that demonstrates its astonishingly detailed skeleton — with each bump on its face covered in countless tiny horns. It's an image that could keep us up at night.

But fear not, for when these fish are alive, they’re actually kind of "cute," says Smith.

Indeed, with a little flesh on its bones — and actual eyeballs in its sockets — this little swimmer looks more like a chubby little cherub.

While lumpsuckers come is all shapes and sizes — from the tiny toad lumpsucker to the Cyclopterus lumpus, which can grow to a diameter of about 22 inches — they do share one thing in common.

They all live up to the name lumpsucker. As in, little lumps that can suck on things. Thanks to adhesive discs on their belly, they can latch onto just about anything.

Besides, even if there was such thing as a "hellspawn lumpsucker," it would probably never catch you. Thanks to that trademark lumpsucker physique, and undersized fins, these bobbleheads swim at a slug’s pace.

Which may explain why in a sea of predators, the Pacific spiny lumpsucker occasionally uses its natural luminescence to suggest a little less Spongebob and a little more Satan.