Facebook | Oregon State Police

The Mysterious Power Of Hagfish Slime

Dan
Dan
January 28, 2019

Outside of 90's Nickelodeon shows, nobody really wants to get slimed. After all, what's the slime made of and where did it come from? Let's check out a series of remarkable, slimy photos posted to Facebook by the Oregon State Police. It's gross, sure — but also fascinating.

First, some background.

Wikipedia

This is a hagfish. It looks fairly unremarkable in this diagram. It's basically a slug-looking marine creature that hangs out mostly in deep water. It doesn't look like much, but just wait.

They're also known as "slime eels"

Wikipedia | Linda Snook

Now we're getting to the slime part, so buckle your seatbelts. The classification of hagfish is tricky — they're not eels, but some biologists can't agree on just what they are.

I was told there'd be slime.

Okay, here we go. Wikipedia, take it away...

"Hagfish ... can exude copious quantitites of a milky and fibrous slime or mucus from some 100 glands running along their flanks."

Uh...pretty gross.

What's so special about this slime?

It isn't the slime itself, but the quantity: hagfish produce slime like The Rock produces blockbuster hits. The slime is a natural defence mechanism, and hagfish are not at all shy about flexing their slime muscles.

It's an odd substance.

Wikimedia Commons

Rather than being a mucusy gel, hagfish slime has elasticity and doesn't dissolve easily. It can get in the gills of oceanic predators, gumming them up and killing them if they don't let the hagfish go.

What does it feel like?

Flickr | hoesim

Weirdly enough, the slime isn't sticky. It contains protein threads, which allow it to expand. It's elusive: unlike other slimes, or even Jello, it just doesn't feel very solid to the touch. In fact, hagfish slime can expand by 10,000 times in less than a half second.

They're not just slimy...they're also delicious.

Wikimedia Commons

No amount of slime can protect hagfish from fishermen. They're eaten in some cuisines, particularly in South Korea, as a delicacy. I've never eaten hagfish, but they're similar to eels, so can't be that bad.

What happens when a truck full of hagfish overturns.

Facebook | Oregon State Police

Well, you're looking at it. The above image, which doesn't even look real, was captured by police after a truck full of hagfish overturned on an Oregon highway a couple years back.

Remember: when they're agitated, they slime.

Facebook | Oregon State Police

...and surely being in a truck that overturns and crashes would be enough to agitate anyone. Hence the slimy, slimy scene in these pics. The hagfish didn't survive, but their slime sure did.

The slime straight-up closed the highway down.

Facebook | Oregon State Police

Law enforcement and those in charge of highway infrastructure are trained to deal with tons of different events, but a mass hagfish sliming has gotta be a first, I would imagine.

It's incredibly soft.

Flickr | dirtsailor2003

How soft? It's literally tens of thousands of times softer than Jello, which isn't a particularly rigid substance to begin with. It's basically a one-of-a-kind substance in the natural world.

What to do with this info?

Wikimedia Commons

Hagfish aren't a threat (unless you're a deep-sea predator), so no worries there. Barring further truck accidents, there aren't many opportunities to experience hagfish slime on dry land. But if you ever do, just know this: it's super weird.