Creature Feature: Viperfish

Photographer: David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL

Photographer: David Csepp, NMFS/AKFSC/ABL


This month of creature features we are going to focus on the strange and unusual. Conditions in the deep sea are very different than habitats closer to the surface, meaning deep sea organisms come in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes.  The life that can be found in the deep is so fantastically creepy that there have even been movies based on them! (Ever hear of the movie Alien?  Check out its inspiration, Phronima!)  Today, however, we are the freaky looking Chauliodus sloani, more commonly known as the viperfish.

Viperfish can live as deep as 5000ft. At this depth, coloration is very important.  Many deep sea creatures like the viperfish tend to have dark colored skin and scales which helps them to camouflage with the darkness of the deep. Viperfish can be dark greenish blue or gray. Some viperfish can be transparent, or see-through.  Ew!!

Like most deep sea organisms, they possess organs called photophores that are able to produce a natural light that scientists call bioluminescence.  Viperfish have an elongated dorsal fin ray that luminesces at the tip, luring its unsuspected prey right to the extremely large overgrown teeth. Their teeth are so big that they protrude out of the mouth up to the lower eye.

Credit: Personnel of NOAA Ship PISCES

Credit: Personnel of NOAA Ship PISCES

Viperfish will wait motionless for hours until they are able to lure in their prey. Once their prey is in sight, the viperfish will swim at highspeeds, piercing its food with its teeth. Yikes!  They hunt mostly for small fish and crustaceans but they have the ability to unhinge their upper jaw to feed on slightly larger prey. By the sound of this ferocious creature, you might guess that it could eat something as big as a human! Not to worry though: even if people could swim deep enough to meet a viperfish, they can only grow to one foot in length!


Edited by KC O’Shea


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