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The Viral Shark That Looks Like Spiderman's Venom Is A Real Species

Viper dogshark, doo doo doo doo doo doo. Oh, and it glows in the dark.

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Eleanor Higgs

Creative Services Assistant

clockOct 17 2022, 14:48 UTC
Viper dogfish (Trigonognathus kabeyai) found in Hawaii, which also glows in the dark. Image credit: Stephen M Kajiura
Viper dogfish (Trigonognathus kabeyai) found in Hawaii, which also glows in the dark. Image credit: Stephen M Kajiura

With a face to rival Spiderman's Venom, it’s no surprise this unusual deep-sea beastie is doing the rounds on Twitter again after its viral moment in 2018. However far from being fake or an internet prank this toothy creature is a real species with a surprising hidden talent, but don’t worry this one hasn’t learned to walk.

The viper dogfish (Trigonognathus kabeyai) is a rare deep-sea shark that is found in the Western North Pacific Ocean of Japan, Taiwan, and Hawaii. First discovered off the coast of Japan in 1986 by the trawler Seiryo-Maryu, these sharks are named for the captain of the ship that first found them, Hiromichi Kabeya. 

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The first part of their name comes from the Greek words “trigon” and “gnathus” meaning triangular jaw. Only a few specimens have been caught, with the largest female measuring just over 53 centimeters (21 inches). They are so rare that little information is known about their lifespan or behavior, however, researchers think this species dates back around 42 million years.

Completely black except for their small translucent fins these sharks have light-producing cells called photophores on their undersides and under their heads, which means they glow in the dark. They live around 270 to 360 meters (890 to 1,180 feet) down and are thought to spend the day at even deeper depths before moving up the water column at night to feed as many species of lanternfish, which the viper dogfish prey on, are known to move from midwater in the day to shallower depths at night. 

With tiny needle-like teeth and big eyes, it's not surprising people are likening it to the Marvel character Venom. However, the most interesting feature of this species is definitely its jaws, which when released extend upwards and out. To catch their prey they extend their fearsome tooth gape, protruding the upper jaw from the top of the neurocranium in a similar manner to a goblin shark. This allows them to eat prey species of all sizes. Research into the stomach contents suggests they eat bony fish, likely swallowing their prey whole.

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On the flip side, it is thought their main predators are bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus) and sickle pomfret (Taractichthys steindachneri) as viper dogfish specimens have been recovered from the stomachs of these species.


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