The gulper eel, Eurypharynx pelecanoides, is one of the strangest looking fish in the deep sea – and that’s really saying something! The elongated body can be anywhere from 3-6 feet long and contains photophores on its whip like tail. (Those of you keeping up with our deep sea Creature Features will remember that photophores are the light-producing organs that create what scientists call bioluminescence in deep sea creatures.) The eyes of the gulper eel are miniscule. They are so small, in fact, that some scientists hypothesize (that’s science-speak for “guess”) that they are used only to sense the bioluminescence produced by other organisms rather than see images like your own eyes do.
Though there are many reasons to call it strange, the oddest part of the gulper eel is the mouth. Large, wide, and with a loose hinge, the jaw of the gulper eel is what it is named for. Like pelicans, the eel’s lower jaw expands to feed on larger organisms. A gulper eel can swallow an animal as large as its own body! The stomach expands so that the eel can keep continue eating even after a large meal. Down in the abyss, it is good to stuff yourself at every meal because food can be scarce. Though they can eat larger prey, gulper eels will also chow down on smaller animals. When a group of shrimp are present, the gulper eel swims through the water with its mouth wide open, eating shrimp as the water passes through the gill slits. With such a big mouth, why eat one at a time?
Check out next weeks post to learn more about
the strange and unusual deep sea animals.
Edited by: KC O’Shea
Photo curtosy by NOAA Digital Library