The Unusual Mating Habit of the Anglerfish

Reproduction is an important feature of life. Without this function, life as we know it, would not exist. Most of us know how reproduction occurs in mammals such as ourselves; however, some animals exhibit mating habits that seem so alien to us. Moreover, some of these animals possess reproductive organs that do not seem even vaguely analogous to the human reproductive system. Read on to discover the unusual mating habits of the anglerfish.

Deep-Sea Courtship

Imagine fusing your body to your partner’s body permanently for the sake of reproduction. Well, that is exactly what the anglerfish do. The deep-sea anglerfish lives in depths of over a kilometre. At this depth, mates are rather hard to come by; hence, when the anglerfish do find mates, it tends to fuse its body with its mate. However, this fish’s strange mating ritual was discovered only recently.

The “Missing” Males

During the 19th century, a new species of anglerfish was discovered – but the problem was that all specimens that the researchers observed were females. They had no idea where the males were or what they looked like. In 1922, an Icelandic biologist named Bjarni Saemundsson discovered a female anglerfish of the suborder Ceratioidei. When he took a closer look at the specimen, he discovered that there were two smaller fish attached to the fish’s stomach. He initially assumed that these were the babies, but was perplexed by their unusual arrangement. However, Saemundsson was unable to deduce the strange anomaly. He brushed it aside, remarking to himself that it was a puzzle for future researchers to solve. In 1924, Charles Tate Regan, a British ichthyologist, picked up another specimen of the suborder Ceratioidei with a smaller fish attached to it. When he dissected it, he realized that it was not the fish’s baby, but her mate. Essentially, Regan had solved the mystery of the “missing” males of the species. The males were there in plain sight, just misclassified and unrecognized.

Anatomy of the Male Anglerfish

The female anglerfish was larger compared to the males. The females also have a wide gaping mouth with sharp, needle-like teeth. A long, illuminated lure hung out from its head near its mouth, which was used to catch prey. However, the males did not have any of these features; and they were actually much smaller than the females too. Albert Eide Parr, a Norwegian zoologist, deduced why the male anglerfish was so different from the females: they do not hunt because they have the females to provide them with all the nutrients they need.

Getting Committed

When the males of this order start looking for mates, they follow a specific pheromone that leads them to the females. Once a male finds a female, he bites on to the female’s stomach until he starts fusing with her body. Their skins and blood vessels fuse together, which makes it possible for the males to acquire nutrients from her body. The male does not have to swim nor ear like a normal fish anymore; hence, the male’s eyes, mouth, fins and a few other internal organs wither away. In the end, the male looks little more than a lump of tissue dangling from the female. The male provides the female with sperms while the female provides the male with all the nutrients required to sustain himself.

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