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The viperfish is one of the most unusual-looking fish in the deep sea. It is also one of the most popular and well-known species. Known scientifically as Chauliodus sloani, it is one of the fiercest predators of the deep. This fish can be easily recognized by its large mouth and sharp, fang-like teeth. In fact, these fangs are so large that they will not fit inside the mouth. Instead, they curve back very close to the fish’s eyes. The viperfish is thought to use these sharp teeth to impale its victims by swimming at them at high speeds. The first vertebra, right behind the head, is actually designed to act as a shock absorber. This fearsome looking creature has a long dorsal spine that is tipped with a photophore, a light-producing organ. The viperfish uses this light organ to attract its prey through a process known as bioluminescence. By flashing the light on and off, it can be used like a fishing lure to attract smaller fish.

Closeup of viperfish showing its large teeth
Closeup of viperfish showing its large teeth
(Image courtesy of Danté Fenolio)

In spite of its ferocious appearance, the viperfish is a relatively small animal, growing to about 11 or 12 inches (30 centimeters) in length. It is usually dark silvery blue in color, but its coloration can vary from green to silver or black. Although the main light organ is located at the end of the elongated dorsal fin ray, there are also several photophores located all along the side of the fish. These may help to camouflage the fish from predators lurking below. These lights make its bottom side appear to blend in with the extremely faint light filtering down from above. They may also serve to attract prey and communicate with potential mates or rivals.

The unusually large teeth of the viperfish help it to grab hold of its prey at it hunts in the darkness. Viperfish have been observed hanging motionless in the water, waving their lures over their heads like a fishing pole to attract their meals. They have a hinged skull, which can be rotated up for swallowing unusually large prey. They also have very large stomachs that allow them to stock up on food whenever it is plentiful. Viperfish feed primarily on crustaceans and small fish. Like many deep-sea creatures, they are known to migrate vertically throughout the day. During daytime hours they are usually found in deep water down to 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). At night they travel up to shallower waters at depths of less than 2,000 feet (600 meters) where food is more plentiful. Viperfish have a very low basal metabolic rate, which means they can go for days without food. This adaptation is likely a result of the scarce nature of food in the deep sea. Viperfish are known to be preyed upon by sharks and some species of dolphin.

Image of a viperfish; notice the light organ on top of the extended dorsal fin ray

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One Comment

  1. “Fangs-a-lot” for showing me this fish. I had a bad dream about it and then when I got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night I thought the nightlight in the bathroom was the light on the back of this crazy fish and I was scared to go the bathroom…now what do I do?


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