Let it not be said that nothing good ever came from an oil spill, as this newly described species of anglerfish proves. Three specimens were apprehended at monitoring stations between 800-1300 m (2625 - 4265 feet) deep within a 250 kilometer (155 mi) radius of the Macondo wellhead, the Gulf oil tap that blew up on BP spectacularly in April 2010. You may know it better as "Deepwater Horizon".

Here is one of the new beauties:

This fine lady is not as big as she seems. She measures just 3 cm from stem to stern. She also appears to have some sort of desk lamp or construction crane attached to her head. Fig. 1 from Pietsch and Sutton 2015. Click here for source.

The stations were installed as part of NOAA's Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment. The three fish were caught in June and September 2011. The depth these fish were caught at was subject to “massive horizontal intrusions of hydrocarbons” (i.e., oil) during the catastrophe, although the authors note that these particular fish were not necessarily exposed.

 

If you are unfamiliar with the anglerfish M.O., it is this: hold motionless in the water waving a tasty looking, sometimes glowing lure. When something swims up to investigate, chomp. For the best all-purpose exposition on the subject, see zefranks's immortal video, “True Facts About the Anglerfish”.

 

Although all anglerfish are horrible in their own special way, this one has a particularly rakish, streamlined appearance that makes it appear rather more like a horse-dragon chimera out of some medieval bestiary than the foul hell-beast harpy that most anglerfish resemble.

 

It also features a lure that would make a giant squid proud, containing several fleshy tentacle-like appeandages and three hardened hooks.

 

Perhaps the hooks are for snagging unwitting prey to deliver to mouth? Fig. 2 from Pietsch and Sutton 2015. Click here for source.

The new species was named for its lure, Lasiognathus dinema, referring to the “two threads” (di-nema) emanating from the base of the hooks.

 

Although there are five other species in this genus, they are only distinguishable from each other based on their lures. Technically called “escae” (singular is the beautiful “esca”), that was also the case for this new species, whose esca was “not especially similar to any known species", the authors of a new paper describing it wrote.

 

Though there is little physical difference between the six species of Lasiognathus, the genus differs radically from other anglerfishes. Its calling card features include that long, skinny head and an enormous mouth, of which the upper part of the upper jaw is attached only by a membrane. This allows it to perform the rather neat trick of flipping backward or forward and completely enclosing the lower jaw if desired. Also, the lower half of the fishing rod – the part bent toward the head (the “pterygiophore”) -- is also apparently movable and “capable of sliding back and forth within a deep trough that extends the full length of the cranium”. Wow.

 

The authors note that the bathypelagic zone in which these fish were caught (1000-4000 m down) has been identified as the “most chronically under-sampled environment on Earth.” Think about that for a moment, not as something we should be ashamed of … but as something we should be salivating over. Earth is right here, waiting for us to explore it. Let's go look.

 

Reference

Pietsch, Theodore W., and Tracey T. Sutton. "A New Species of the Ceratioid Anglerfish Genus Lasiognathus Regan (Lophiiformes: Oneirodidae) from the Northern Gulf of Mexico." Copeia 103, no. 2 (2015): 429-432.