Hagfish Can Make Enough Slime To Choke Predators In Seconds

Posted: Jan 18 2019, 11:52pm CST | by , Updated: Jan 18 2019, 11:55pm CST, in Latest Science News


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Hagfish can Make Enough Slime to Choke Predators in Seconds
Credit: The Canadian Press

Researchers have unraveled the mystery of the slime produced by weird marine creature.

Hagfish are eel-like animals that are found at the bottom of the ocean. These marine creatures are known for releasing large volumes of slime in response to a threat or to defend themselves from predators like sharks. Their thick slime can expand 10,000 times its original size in just a few tenths of a second and clog shark’s gills, allowing the hagfish to escape.

Researchers have long been intrigued by the nature and complexity of hagfish’s defense mechanism. Recently, University of Illinois researchers have modeled the mechanism mathematically. Their goal was to understand how the hagfish’s slime stretch under a predator’s attack.

Hagfish’s slime consists of remarkably strong threads, each 100 times thinner than a human hair. But these threads are so densely coiled that they can contain as much as 15 centimeters of thread. Researchers placed the skeins in salt water to see how long it took them to unfold and expand in the surrounding water.

"The hagfish does it in less than half a second, but it took hours of soaking for the threads to loosen up in experiments. Until they stirred the water, and it happened faster. The stirring was the thing." Jean-Luc Thiffeault, a University of Wisconsin-Madison math professor, whose research is focused on fluid dynamics and mixing, said in a statement.

Researchers then began unraveling skeins under microscope. That put them in a position to confirm whether the forces of the turbulent water of a bite-and-shake attack were enough to loosen up skeins. Researchers found that another mechanism other than the drag on the free is also required to complete the process.

"That's unlikely to happen if the whole thing is moving freely in water," said Thiffeault. "The main conclusion of our model is we think the mechanism relies on the threads getting caught on something else – other threads, all the surfaces on the inside of a predator's mouth, pretty much anything – and it's from there it can really be explosive."

Researchers suggest that skeins may get a boost from mucins, proteins found in mucus. These proteins could speed the breakup of packed thread, but not to the extend required in the process.

"It's just hard to imagine there's another process other than hydrodynamic flow that can lead to these timescales, that burst of slime," said Thiffeault . "When the shark bites down, that does create turbulence. That creates faster flows, the sorts of things that provide the seed for these things to happen. Nothing is going to happen as nicely as in our model – which is more of a good start for anyone who wants to take more measurements – but our model shows the physical forces play the biggest role."

In the future, researchers hope to create a simple model of entangled threads, so that they can better understand the macroscopic properties of other materials.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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