Monday, April 25, 2011

The Charmed Lives of Anglerfish

Our first lesson here at WTF nature will be on the stirring physical specimen known as the anglerfish. Among the many varieties of batfish, football fish, and seadevils, one thing remains the same between all species: one of the most of the most screwed up mating cycles in the vertebrate world. (I'm not bringing spineless wonders into this just yet.) At birth, both sexes are more or less indiscriminate, but the similarity dissolves pretty quickly. Soon the females blossom into the wrinkly, fanged horrors you see in the Discovery Channel photos. The males, however, do not.

These sad, stunted little creatures drift around aimlessly, gaping their tiny mouths at any particles they can snap up. No lure, no gnashing maws, not even much camouflage; they're basically helpless minnows destined to lead brief little lives. That is, unless they can find a female. The relationship between angler genders is less like an egalitarian romance and more like parasitism, you see. ...Exactly like parasitism, really.

Upon meeting a female of his kind, (he can sense her from quite a distance via pheromones,) the male rushes to her side... and burrows into it. He attaches himself to her body, clinging to her with every ounce of his strength until the skin between them begins to disintegrate. Blood vessels mix, reproductive cells are exchanged and before long the male is nothing but a fleshy lump on his mate's hide, having dissolved away into nothing but a pair of gonads. His brain, bones, and G.I. tract all melt away into the female's bloodstream, leaving her with a convenient packet of sperm to be accessed whenever it's time for a new clutch of eggs.

The femme fatale herself.
What's more, this female may mate with many partners over the course of her life, with the same grizzly results each time. She's 100% woman, even if there's two or three pairs of testicles hanging off her backside. The anglerfish have presumably been carrying on with this depraved love life for innumerable generations by now, which leads to a horrific realization: if we've been around for even a fraction of that time, what kind of fascinating reproductive practices might humans develop in the next few million years?

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