They’re sneaky. They’re slimy. And they’re hungry for meat. The hagfish, or slime eel, has earned its name due to its unique defense mechanism. When they are agitated, hagfish can secrete slime to choke unsuspecting predators. Even sharks fall prey to their gunky wrath. This makes us wonder, what would happen if you fell into a pool full of them? What makes the hagfish so unique? How does hagfish slime expand so rapidly? And why is the hagfish useful to us?

Hagfish have been around for hundreds of millions of years, and are the only known living animal with a skull but no spine. They are also jawless creatures with the unique ability to absorb nutrients through their skin. Using four sets of teeth on their tongue, hagfish like to burr inside sea creatures, dead and alive, and digest them over time.

Their bodies are lined with special glands that secrete stringy proteins when the hagfish feels agitated. This slime can expand 10,000 times larger in under a second, making it a lethal choking hazard to predators. So, could you survive in a pool full of them?

Many hobbyists are actually turning their pools into self-sustaining ecosystems for fish and plants, known as an aquaponic system. If you’re feeling adventurous, and want to adopt hundreds of hagfish, you’ll need a cold saltwater pool to mimic their natural habitat and enough dead fish to feed them.

In the unfortunate event that you slip and fall into your pool, you might still be OK if you’re close to the surface. As bottom dwellers, they may not even react to you being there. But if you happen to disturb them, the water would start to get very slimy very quickly, making it difficult to swim.

The slime isn’t actually sticky, but it’s particularly strong. It would tangle around your toes, fingers, ears and the crevices of your body. If it got in your mouth and started to expand in your throat, you could choke very quickly and drown. Eventually, the hagfish would feast on your body. That’s not exactly a nice way to go.

Also, you might want to be extra careful if you’re driving near trucks full of hagfish. Hagfish slime is a mucin, like snot, except that it doesn’t dry out. “Achoo! Um, can someone get me a tissue please?” The mucin is made up of long fibers, like spider silk, which are arranged in small bundles known as skeins. When these skeins come into contact with sea water, the glue holding them together dissolves, and the slime expands rapidly.

These slime microfibres are stronger than nylon, thinner than human hair, and 100,000 times softer than Jell-O. This makes hagfish slime an exceptionally useful and environmentally-friendly fabric. In fact, it’s used to make safety helmets, kevlar vests, and even airbags. And researchers are investigating whether it could be used as a hydrogel to hold water in soil for farming.

Hagfish are also considered a delicacy in Korean cuisine and are used in many delicious stir-fry recipes. So, maybe if you’re careful, you could harvest them as a business. Whatever the situation is, if you’re swimming deep in the ocean, be aware of the many risks involved.

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