It's small. It's shocking. It lurks in the salty depths of the ocean. It can only be the anglerfish. Even though the anglerfish in the photograph isn't going to be winning beauty pageants any time soon, it has got one achievement under its metaphorical belt. It is a species new to science.
Named Lasiognathus regan, the previously unknown anglerfish was discovered in the deep oceans of the northern Gulf of Mexico. Three female specimens were found by researchers from the Nova Southeastern University's (NSU) Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography. The findings were published by The American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists in Copeia.
The three specimens ranged from 30 millimeters (1.2 inches) to 95 millimeters (3.7 inches) in length, so they're quite tiny – small enough to sit in the palm of your hand. They are adapted to life between 1,000 meters (around 3,280 feet) and 1,500 meters (4,921 feet) deep. The pressure at these depths is around one hundred times the pressure we experience day-to-day on land.
The anglerfish gets its name from the funky protrusion poking out of its head. This rod-like structure is the first bone of the dorsal fin, just extended further. The organ at the end of the appendage is bioluminescent, meaning that it lights up, in this case with the assistance of bacteria. In the dark depths of the ocean, this organ is hypothesized to be a sort of lure to attract a mate or even unassuming prey. The unfortunate victim thinks they've found a tasty treat but then are eaten themselves.
Tracey Sutton, an associate professor from NSU who assisted in describing the new species, exclaimed how wonderful the discovery was: "As a researcher, the one thing I know is that there's so much more we can learn about our oceans," he said. "Every time we go out on a deep-sea research excursion there's a good chance we'll see something we've never seen before – the life at these depths is really amazing."
Even though the Lasiognathus regan isn't your typical jewel of the deep, it is still a treasure for researchers and indicates that we still have a long way to go before our ocean inventory is full.
"Finding this new species reinforces the notion that our inventory of life in the vast ocean interior is far from complete," said Sutton. "Every research trip is an adventure and another opportunity to learn about our planet and the varied creatures who call it home."