The ocean depths are still a mystery to us. One fact often quoted to illustrate this fact is that we’ve sent 12 people to the Moon, but only three have been to the deepest point on Earth, the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench (it has a depth of almost 11 km or 6.8 miles).
There’s one thing we do know for certain about the ocean deep – it’s full of life. Every new trip we make to the deep sea, we find new species. Even in the Challenger Deep there are lifeforms that thrive in those extreme conditions. And they can get pretty weird. There are creatures that have adapted to harsh living conditions, oftentimes spending the entirety of their lives in complete darkness. They are not what you would call cuddly.
1. Sloane’s Viperfish
Sloane’s viperfish is a perfect example of what you can expect to see on this list – colorless and full of large fang-like teeth. It also has photophores alongside its body that glow in the dark in order to attract prey. There are the signature characteristics a predator needs in order to survive the dark waters ranging between 1,600 and 8,200 feet deep that this viperfish calls home. However, unlike other deep sea dwellers, the Sloane’s viperfish likes to travel to shallow waters at night in search of a plentiful food source so don’t rule out a chance meeting with this ghastly guppy.
2. Humpback Anglerfish
The anglerfish won’t be winning any beauty contests anytime soon and the humpback anglerfish, also known as the common black devil, might be the scariest of the bunch. The anglerfish is known for the long growth it has on its head (called an illicium) that acts as a lure for prey. It also has a nasty-looking set of teeth that give it a frightening appearance, even though it only grows 7 inches long.
Anglerfish are also known for their extreme mating ritual. The male anglerfish, which is much smaller than the female (up to one inch in the case of the black devil), attaches permanently to the female. After a while, his organs atrophy and he becomes a parasitic sperm provider. That is not the case with the humpback anglerfish where the male only attaches briefly and then goes on his merry way.
Honestly, why does the piranha get all the notoriety when there are much scarier fish in the sea? The appropriately named fangtooth, for example, has the largest teeth related to body size of any fish in the ocean. They are so large that the lower set of teeth has to slide into special pockets on the roof of the mouth in order for the fangtooth to close its mouth. It spends most of its time in waters up to 6,500 feet deep, but it has been spotted at huge depths up to 16,000 feet.
4. Giant Spider Crab
The name is really apt – if you imagine the offspring of a normal crab and a spider, this is what you’d get. One of the largest arthropods on the planet, the giant spider crab can reach lengths of 12 feet from claw tip to claw tip. It spends its free time on the ocean floor up to 1,000 feet, native to the waters off the coast of Japan.
5. Pelican Eel
Also known as the gulper eel, this creature looks ordinary and non-threatening…at first. It is just an average, 2.5 foot eel. However, once it sees prey, the gulper eel has an odd party piece – it can open its mouth very wide in order to swallow prey much larger than it. Despite its unique ability, the pelican eel’s diet consists mostly of small crustaceans.
Snaggletooth, also known as stareater, contains almost 50 different species of fish that share similar characteristics. Like the viperfish, they have rows of sharp, vicious teeth and can be found at ocean depths between 1,500 and 8,500 feet. Also like viperfish, the snaggletooth has a lure that it uses to attract unsuspecting prey, but it is attached to the chin instead of the top of the head.
7. Giant Isopod
If you’re scared of creepy crawlies, this is definitely one to avoid. Try to imagine a woodlouse, except that it’s almost 20 inches in size and weighs up to 4 lbs. That is the largest species of giant isopods known as Bathynomus giganteus. It is a prime example of deep-sea gigantism, a phenomenon where animals that dwell in deep seas grow significantly larger than their shallow water relatives.
8. King of Herrings
That is the fancy name given to the giant oarfish, the longest bony fish in the world. The fish will comfortably reach a length of 20 feet and can reach 30+ feet in extreme cases, also weighing up to 600 pounds. Although the oarfish usually frequents depths of 3,300 feet, there have been several examples of them washing ashore so they also come into shallow waters for uncertain reasons. It is believed that old sightings of oarfish have created the idea of “sea serpents”.
9. Marine Hatchetfish
This animal should not be confused with the unrelated freshwater hatchetfish. The deep sea variant can be found at depths ranging between 600 and 4,500 feet. Through bioluminescence, the hatchetfish can camouflage itself by matching the light intensity of its environment in order to evade predators. That also provides them with a ghostly, almost transparent appearance. Although eerie looking, they are hardly a threat as the largest species only reaches 4 inches in size.
10. Atlantic Wolffish
We’ve seen a lot of scary-looking fish here, but at least we can take solace knowing that they only measure a few inches in length. That’s not the case with the Atlantic wolffish, though. It can grow up to 5 feet in length and weighs 40 pounds. It is an aggressive predator with a powerful bite. It likes to spend its time in cold waters reaching temperatures as low as 30 Fahrenheit.
You might have noticed that we left off some of the scariest deep sea inhabitants – sharks. Examples like the megamouth, the goblin or the frilled shark would certainly make apt entries, but we already covered them in an article on “Weird Shark Species” so why not give that a read, as well?