Anglerfish Diet

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Thanks to relatively small fins, anglerfish do more floating than swimming.
Thanks to relatively small fins, anglerfish do more floating than swimming. (Image: Reinhold Thiele/Valueline/Getty Images)

There are more than 20 different species of anglerfish. While most spend their lives up to a mile below the ocean's surface in the deep waters of the Atlantic and Antarctic, others thrive in shallow, tropical swimming holes. What all species have in common, however, is the distinction among many as being one of the ugliest fish in the seas. Still, many otherwise repellant body parts play an important role in keeping anglers fed.

The Basics

Anglerfish are by nature carnivorous animals that subsist largely on other fish and marine invertebrates. However, because the majority of anglerfish species make their homes in deep-sea environments that can, on occasion, seem vast and empty, these animals have learned to make meals of whatever creatures cross their paths.

Setting the Trap

A female deep sea anglerfish is often best remembered for her gigantic head filled with shard-like translucent teeth. Perhaps her most striking feature is a branch of dorsal spine, known as an illicium, that extends beyond her back and dangles over her mouth. At its tip is a small lure known as an esca, which, in some species, is home to pulsating luminescent bacteria that even the most nearsighted fish can spot. Together, these anatomical parts lure prey to the aptly-named angler's mouth.

Impressive Prey

Because deep sea anglerfish, especially, have such large mouths and stomachs, they are able to swallow prey up to twice their own size. However, even anglerfish that live in shallow waters are capable of swallowing surprisingly large catches, including small sharks, turtles and even diving birds like seagulls and cormorants.

A Different Strategy

Male anglerfish are exponentially smaller than their female counterparts and do not carry the fishing rods for which anglers are famed. As such, when a young male finds a female, he almost immediately latches onto her flesh with his own sharp teeth. As time passes, he permanently binds with his host -- his eyes and organs wasting away, save his testes. He becomes an extension of the female's body, subsisting on her blood alone, while she, in turn, has the ever-present supply of sperm she needs to reproduce.

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