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Hagfish Need Weeks of Recovery After a Good Slimefest

Sliming someone is exhausting business, says a new study.

Forget the slime that the kids are making these days with Elmer's glue. The hagfish makes that stuff all on its own, no glue needed. Once it does, though, it's down for the count.

At first glance, the slithery, eel-like hagfish doesn't look like a formidable opponent. They're mostly blind and pretty ugly. Come near a hagfish, though, and you're gonna get slimed.

The thick, clear slime can completely clog a predator's gills, stopping it dead in its tracks.

hagfish slime Giphy

It's even been able to stop a shark.

hagfish slime


It happens underwater, but if you happen to collide with some on land, don't think you're getting off easy — they've slimed above the sea, too, causing a massive car pileup and legendary YouTube vids.

It turns out, though, that slime mechanism isn't effortless. Scientists have extensively studied the slime for a long time, trying to look for clues as to how to manufacture such a biomaterial for themselves.

They haven't been able to recreate it perfectly, but in the process, they did learn a lot about the effort the animal goes through to secrete the substance.

It's a lot of effort. A new paper reveals that when a hagfish is triggered, it lets out most of the contents of its slime storage relatively quickly. Then, it's another three or four weeks before its supply is replenished.

Scientists aren't sure why it takes so long to rebuild the slime, but they do sense that hagfish are aware of that fact. So these deceptively resourceful creatures only release slime from gills that are closest to a predator — meaning that if a shark bites a hagfish tail, it's not going to release slime from its head.

That keeps the rest of its body primed for a good old-fashioned slimefest, even as other parts of its body might be rebuilding that slime.

Moral of the story? Don't get too close to any part of a hagfish, unless you want to get slimed.


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