The Hagfish

What were you doing on October 21st of last year? Were you celebrating National Hagfish Day, which occurs on the third Wednesday of each year? Probably not, because you most likely didn’t know that such a day even existed. There is a good chance you don’t even know what a hagfish is. Well, after reading this month’s Discovery, that will change. Let’s explore one of the most fascinating—and repulsive—creatures God ever designed. Some people call this creature the slime eel, others refer to it as the snot snake, but it is neither an eel nor a snake. It is a fish. There are over 60 species of hagfish, some of which can grow as long as four feet. The average is about 18 inches. The hagfish is most well-known for producing massive amounts of slime. Hagfish slime is so interesting, because it is truly unlike any other substance in the world.

When a hagfish feels threatened or is attacked, it has approximately 100 glands that it uses to secrete slime. When the slime is in water, it can expand to thousands of times its original size in less than a second. A tiny amount of the slime, about 1/1000th of an ounce, can expand to fill a five-gallon bucket almost instantly. Furthermore, the slime is super, super soft. In fact, researchers believe it to be about 100,000 times softer than Jell-O. Imagine a super-snotty sneeze being shot out of the pores of a worm-looking fish and you get the picture. What does this slime do for the hagfish? Research shows that the slime is designed to cause fish that attack it to choke and gag. If they do not spit the hagfish out, they cannot breathe, so they are forced to release their catch. 

The seal shark Dalatias licha (a–c) and the wreckfish Polyprion americanus (d–f) attempt to prey on the hagfish. First, the predators approach their potential prey. Predators bite or try to swallow the hagfish, but the hagfish has already projected jets of slime (arrows) into the predators’ mouth. Choking, the predators release the hagfish and gag in an attempt to remove slime from their mouth and gill chamber. ( (Vincent Zintzen) 2021 CC-by-sa-2.5)

But if the slime is so slimy, how do the hagfish get out of it? Don’t they slime themselves? Actually, they do, but they can basically tie themselves into a knot and run their body through, squeezing the slime off. Isn’t it amazing how God designed them to be “unslimable”? 

Useful Slime

Not only does slime help hagfish survive, but its chemical properties are useful for humans as well. The slime is composed of mucus and proteins, which together make it similar to a wet spider web. The proteins are tightly coiled, but when stretched out, connect together to make the slime super-stretchy. The perfectly designed coiling system is the reason the slime can expand so quickly. Each hagfish contains enough proteins to produce strings that, if connected together, would literally be thousands of miles long.

The proteins and slime they produce are stronger than nylon, but are about 100 times thinner than a human hair. Researchers who study the slime believe it can be used to create all kinds of helpful fabrics.  Because it is so soft, stretchy, and strong, it has potential to be used in such things as bulletproof vests, car airbags, and diapers. Oh, and did you know that, because the slime is composed of a large amount of protein, it is edible? That gives new meaning to a “slug burger,” doesn’t it? Who would have thought that God’s slime recipe was so useful?

Hagfish are equipped with more tools than just their slime. They can go for months without eating. When they do eat, they don’t even have to “chew” their food. They can absorb nutrients directly through their skin. Imagine putting a hamburger on your arm and it seeping through the pores into your body.

 Furthermore, hagfish are covered with very loose skin. What is so important about it being loose? Hagfish often don’t shoot slime unless they are bitten first. That means they have to be able to live through a big chomp from a predator such as a shark. Their skin is not very tough, and can be punctured fairly easily with a sharp object, so it does not act as a shield like scales on other fish do. The amazingly designed, super-loose skin is not attached to the fish’s muscles or body. That means when the predator bites down on the hagfish, its body simply squeezes over to the side of the loose skin that is not feeling the pressure. Although its skin often gets a puncture wound, its vital organs and internal body stays safe. If you have ever played with one of those squishy balls with a hard plastic eye in it, you get the idea. When you squeeze the ball, you don’t break the plastic eye, it just moves over to another part of the ball that is not being squished. 

Hagfish pose a real problem for those who believe in evolution. When we look in the fossil record, we find a hagfish fossil that supposedly dates back about 100 million years. (We know the world is not that old, and is only a few thousand years old, but we are just using evolutionary numbers to show you the problem.) That fossil shows that hagfish have remained basically unchanged for “100 million years.” That means they have not evolved or changed into anything else. For this reason, hagfish are called “living fossils,” because the hagfish alive today are the same as the those in the fossil record. Furthermore, because of the unique body make-up of the hagfish, the theory of evolution has no real group or category where the hagfish fits. 

Those who know the truth about creation, however, can easily understand this evidence. On days Five and Six of Creation, God created all the different kinds of animals. They did not evolve from, or into, any other kinds. The hagfish does not fit into any evolution models, because it did not evolve. It was created. It remained the same kind of fish throughout history (as is seen in the fossil record). And it has not evolved into any other kind of creature. God designed and created the hagfish, and evolution cannot account for it. 

So, when the third Wednesday of October rolls around this year. Be sure to take a few minutes to celebrate National Hagfish Day. And be sure to remember the Creator who designed such an interesting creature. And, if you happen to be in a Korean restaurant on that day, order a plate of gomjangeo, and wait for them to bring you a delicious meal of hagfish.


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