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Atlantic Hagfish Myxine limosa (Myxine glutinosa)


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Atlantic Hagfish
credit: Charles Keith

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Family: Myxinidae, Hagfishes view all from this family

Description Hagfish lack bones, paired fins, and a true jaw. The hagfish skeleton is composed of cartilage, the dorsal fin is actually a skin fold, and the jaw is a rasping plate with horn-like teeth. Atlantic hagfish belong to the family Myxinidae which have one pair of gill openings attached to 6-7 internal gill pouches per opening. The species has paired barbels on the tip of its snout and four barbels surrounding the mouth. Hagfish are almost blind because their eyes are rudimentary but their sense of smell is keen. The skin of the Atlantic hagfish is smooth and scale-less with a series of slime glands along both sides of the ventral midline. These glands produce fibrous mucus that protects hagfish from predators and possibly parasites.

Dimensions Up to 31" (79 cm).

Similar Species Sea Lamprey.

Habitat Open ocean.

Range New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Eastern Canada, Alaska.

Discussion The hagfish is considered to be the most primitive vertebrate species either living or extinct. Hagfish evolved over at least 300 million years and have the same basic morphological traits of fossilized specimens. Atlantic hagfish inhabit soft clay or muddy sediments and spend much of their time in temporary burrows in the sea floor. They prey primarily on shrimp, worms and small crabs. They are also scavengers that feed upon dead and dying fish, mammals and shellfish. Hagfish are often considered a nuisance by commercial fishermen because they can feed on targeted species.