In the spirit of the Halloween season, Peter Konstantinidis, curator of vertebrate collections at Oregon State University, takes us on a tour of deep-sea fish—and a few scare-inducing mammals and other critters.
More than 250,000 fish lie in repose down in the basement of Nash Hall on the campus of Oregon State University.
Many of the preserved specimens in OSU’s ichthyology collection likely wouldn’t scare anyone. We’re talking salmon, trout, cod, etc. Cartilaginous fish are a different story. You don’t have to suffer from ichthyophobia—fear of fish—to get goosebumps from looking at a shark. Jawless fish such as eels? Sort of scary and sort of strange.
Then there are the fish that live in deep sea, more than a mile below the surface. For these things, the creepy level goes to 11.
Whipnose & triplewart seadevil
Remember Finding Nemo? An anglerfish almost makes a meal of Dory and Marlin. These fish are known for a fleshy growth that protrudes from their head that acts as a lure (angler fish, get it?). The tip emits light known as bioluminescence to attract its prey.
Anglerfish are also characterized by their tiny eyes, fang-like teeth, large jaws, and dark skin. When it comes to their mating behavior, though, things really get weird.
Male anglerfish such as the whipnose and triplewart seadevil are much smaller than females, and they don’t have the “lure.” They are parasites, and their only goal in life is to hitch a ride to a female. The male bites into the female, and their bodies eventually fuse. The male gets under her skin—literally. The female soon takes command of the male’s physical systems, rendering him something like a fish zombie.
“The male becomes nothing else except a provider of sperm,” Konstantinidis says.
This is another deep-sea predator that hunts in the dark depths of the Pacific Ocean. Another anglerfish, this specimen was collected in 1965 from a depth of about 2,400 meters by the Yaquina, the first research vessel in the OSU history.
The females can grow to about two feet long. These fish also have fang-like teeth and a long chin whisker that also emits light to attract prey. It has a head joint that allows its mouth to open 120 degrees and swallow.
“Their teeth are so large and bendable you can press on them and they move,” Konstantinidis says.
There are five recognized species of dreamers. It’s not well-known as to how they got their common name, but by looking at them it surely isn’t due to their appearance. A dreamer’s head comprises more than half its body. It has fins but it mostly just floats around.
This fish has an expandable stomach. Like most deep-sea fish who compete with each other for food, it has evolved to attack and consume large prey.
“It’s basically a desert down there,” he says. “There’s not much food and you don’t find a lot of friends. They don’t want to let go of any prey. These and other deep-sea fishes can swallow prey that are larger than themselves. They just fold them.”
Dreamers? More like nightmares.
Western forest scorpion
So, you thought scorpions weren’t found in Oregon? Wrong!
From OSU’s Oregon State Arthropod Collection (OSAC), here’s a tail-wielding arachnid plucked from the banks of the Blue River in the H.J. Andrews Forest in Lane County. These scorpions can be found under rocks and bark on decaying logs throughout the Pacific Northwest. They are venomous, but not enough to kill or cause a severe non-allergic reaction.
OSU’s mammal collection has the skull of a wolf collected by a Fox. The tag indicates this “timber” wolf (Canis lupus) skull was collected by a “J.W. Fox” in Glide, Douglas County, on March 14, 1914. By the 1940s, wolves were hunted to extinction in Oregon. They began reappearing in northeastern Oregon the late 1990s and early 2000s and have now re-established a foothold in the state.
Townsend’s big-eared bat
No Halloween-themed glance into OSU’s collections would be complete without a bat, those misunderstood flying mammals whose images become ubiquitous this time of year. This moth-eating Townsend’s big-eared bat was collected in March 1961 in the Sentinel Cave on the Lava Beds National Monument in Siskiyou County, California. It weighed in at 7.6 grams before its innards and bones were removed for taxidermy. The specimen’s tiny skull and teeth are kept in a test tube.
European wild boar
These aggressive animals were introduced to California’s Monterey County in the 1920s by a wealthy landowner who wanted an exotic animal to hunt. The descendants of those boars, which bred with domestic pigs, are known as wild pigs and are now one of the most prized big-game animals in the Golden State. This specimen was collected in 1955 by Jim Yoakum from the original site of wild boar introduction in the state, San Carlos Ranch in Carmel Valley.