So apparently today is the 2nd annual Hagfish Day, the celebration of the beauty of the ugly. I can certainly get into that.
Of all the "ugly" creatures on the planet, hagfish (sometimes known as "slime eels", despite the fact that they are not eels at all - probably not really fish either for that matter) certainly rank somewhere high on the list. Hyperotreti (the hagfishes) is a sister taxa to Vertebrata within Craniata. There are some synapomorphies within the group include slime producing glands along the ventrolateral surface of the body, four pairs of tentacles around the mouth, and a skeleton made up of cartilaginous bars. They are known scavengers that use a rasping "tongue" and the ability to tie their bodies into knots to remove flesh from the carcass they are snacking on. But the slime is their real claim to fame. It is used as a defensive mechanism, making the hagfish easily able to slip away from their predator, simultaneously leaving them a mouthful of slime to choke on. A small amount of the protein exuded by the above mentioned glands mixes with water to produce a substantial amount of this slime, as can be seen in the video at the beginning of this post.
A little gross, but in that "really cool, wish I had a hagfish to play with" way. These critters are pretty remarkable, and I completely endorse an annual day of celebration in their honor. So take a moment celebrate Hagfish Day. And thanks to Dr. Chris Brochu for the e-mail to the VERTPALEO listserve this morning on the subject.