And God Created ...

The Hagfish

David Everson

Among the creatures that God created on the earth, some are true wonders because of beauty, strength, cunning, intelligence, and grace. Some, on the other hand, show features so bizarre and so strange that they need to be "looked at," and, again, we marvel at the intelligence that they display in demonstrating the omniscience of our Creator. The hagfish is just such a creature. It is considered a primitive fish by scientists, today, but, as we shall see, its success at survival indicates that God carefully fashioned this creature for a unique lifestyle.

Living in cold, deep ocean water, the hagfish would seem to be of little interest to anyone, yet, man has made use of this animal for thousands of years. Looking like an eel or sea lamprey, it has a long, slender body that is about a foot long and is pinkish-gray in color. Around its mouth is a ring of short sensitive tentacles used for location of food and for touch. Its eyes are very small and, while it is not blind, in the dark ocean depths, eyes have little use. Its touch and smell are strong, and this aids in its functioning. It lacks fins except for a very simple tail fin and has two external openings that can become clogged from time to time with the slime produced from a gland along its side.

It is classified as a Jawless Fish along with the sea lamprey. Its skeleton is made entirely of cartilage, and this makes it very flexible which, as we will see later, is used to an amazing degree by this "primitive" fish. Due to its habit of eating dead fish that would drift to the bottom of the ocean, the hagfish was considered to be just a parasite and a scavenger for many years by zoologists. The hagfish has the somewhat gross pattern of burrowing into dead fish or other dead animals and eating them from the inside out. It lacks teeth and jaws but has two pairs of rasps on the top of a tongue that it uses to pull meat into its mouth and tear it off the animal it is eating. It may have been created with this feeding pattern due to the difficulty of finding food in the deep ocean environment. It has a very low metabolism and after feeding may not eat again for as much as seven months. So, as a cleaner of the deep ocean environment, the hagfish plays out its role in the niche that God formed for it.

God gave the hagfish other unusual characteristics and abilities for self defense. When attacked, it can release up to one gallon of very sticky slime into the water around it. This slime will cling to and confuse a predator, allowing the hagfish to crawl off in another direction. This slime can also get into the hagfish's gill openings. This could be a problem, but God has given the fish the ability to "sneeze." While it may not be an actual sneeze as a mammal might clear its gill openings it is still just as effective.

Using slime is just half of its ability to avoid capture; it can also tie itself into knots. It, then, can slide into and out of these knots to clean itself of the slime, evade predators, and to crawl its way into a carcass to feed.

While we might think that this seemingly useless and repulsive creature would be of no use to humans, we would be wrong. Millions of pounds of hagfish are caught and eaten in most of Asia. The skin is processed into "eel skin" which is made into boots, wallets, bags, purses, and other products for sale all over the world. Some who are reading this have something made out of the hagfish skin. Studies are ongoing as to whether fishing for hagfish will be profitable to the American fishing industry.

Let us look at even the most repulsive of creatures to marvel at the power of God to create and design. Praise be to God! -Rt 1 Box 116A, Belington, WV 26250.


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