and the deep sea angler fish
to spend this winter curled up in front of a fireplace with a
lover and a glass of wine instead of (once again) in front of
my radiator with a ski-hat and a book, I decided to search the
scientific literature for tips from the animal kingdom on how
to find myself a mate. Instead I found a cure for my romantic
daydreams: the freakish love story of the deep-sea angler fish.
Suddenly commitment doesn’t sound so great….
Over 100 species of angler fish live in ocean depths down to 6,000
ft., fishing for prey by waving a fleshy, glowing forehead appendage
in front of their gaping mouths. The vast darkness of the ocean
a mile below the surface makes the angler fish dating scene even
tougher than Boston’s, particularly for males. Available
females are slow-moving, sparse (males outnumber them by up to
30 to one, according to one estimate) and disinclined to hunt
down a mate. So males must dart through the depths searching frantically
for a female, guided only by their noses - which are the largest,
compared to the size of the fish, of any vertebrate.
Luckily for the males, female anglerfish are not only smelly,
but comparatively huge. A female Ceratias holboelli, hanging in
the water like a spiny black eggplant, can reach three and a half
feet in length. Her potential mates max out at two-thirds of an
inch. But despite her fragrant bulk, the odds are against a male
finding a female to spawn with each year. So the angler fish have
evolved a mating strategy that takes both kinky sex and monogamy
to disturbing new levels.
male has sniffed out a female he swims up and, in a shocking bit
of sadism, clamps down on her with an unshakable bite. The fish
has evolved tooth-like plates in his upper and lower jaw for this
purpose, and once he sinks them into a chosen female, he stays
put. If anglerfish sex were anything like the human variety, after
spawning the male would immediately fall asleep or disappear,
either way relaxing his grip. But the male anglerfish doesn’t
let go. Ever again. FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE.