Patrick Gehman Mr. Misuro, P. 5 6.

0 Marine Science 25 April 2011 Deep-Sea Viperfish Hailing from the dark, abyssal depths of the ocean, the deep-sea viperfish is known world-wide for its ferocious, toothy face. Also known as “Sloan's Viperfish” or “Sloan's Fangfish,” the Chaulodus sloani belongs to the Stomiidae family of phosphoresceing, deep-sea, ray-finned fish along with the scaleless dragonfish (Grammatostomias flagellibarba) and the rat-trap fish (Malacosteus niger). The viperfish derives its common name from the “wicked” fangs which extend from its jaw and its long, thin, snake-like body. Though this fish is commonly thought of as an immense sea monster, it is rarely larger then two feet long, frequently between ten and twelve inches (twenty-five to thirty centimeters) and it weighs around thirty grams. Its body diameter is narrow but stretchable, like a snake's, so that it can extend to accommodate large meals. Even at twelve inches long, the viperfish is still one of the larger fish residing in the depths. The most famous deep-sea denizen, the deep-sea anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsoni), is only five inches long, and the scaleless dragonfish is four to six inches long. The outlandish appearance of the viperfish can be attributed, in part, to the long, saber-like, needle-thin fangs which it sports on its strong lower jaw, hindering the full closure of its mouth. The viperfish's eyes further its alien appearance as they are large and black with milky white centers, adapted to detect light in the Stygian depths. Another trait possessed by the viperfish that distinguishes many deep-sea fish from their shallow-water counterparts is bioluminescence. The viperfish bears photophores, organs containing bioluminescencent bacteria, located along its belly and sides which serve various functions. In addition to those on its body, the deep-sea viperfish's whip-like second rod on its dorsal fin is tipped with a bioluminescencent lure which is a crucial component of its food acquisition method.

Though not much is known about gender differences in Sloan's Viperfish, it is likely that both males and females exist, males with testes and females with ovaries. Very little is known about the reproductive practices of Sloan's Viperfish. They are presumed to reproduce sexually, like eels and several other deep-sea fish, through external spawning. The eggs of viperfish are released in water where the male viperfish deposits his sperm and fertilizes the eggs. The spawning is believed to occur year-round experiencing a peak in late winter, early spring, from January to March. The planktonic eggs float to shallower depths where they hatch after an unknown incubation period. Once out of their eggs, the larvae viperfish measure about six millimeters long. The amount of time that it takes the larvae viperfish to achieve maturity is unknown. Viperfish are estimated to live as long as thirty to forty years old. The main challenge in the barren depths of the ocean is to find and catch food. Fortunately for the viperfish, millions of years of evolution have prepared it to do just that. The deep-sea viperfish has developed an interesting method of food acquisition: fishing. The viperfish swims through the water at a forty-five degree angle, dangling its dorsal bioluminescent bulb before its mouth and flashing the photophores on its sides. In the desolate depths in which Sloan's Viperfish lives, every organism is potential prey, so when a fish or crustacean spies the viperfish's lure, it is attracted. Then the teeth come in. As soon as a fish gets close enough, the viperfish darts forward at a speed of twice its body-length in less than a second and impales its quarry with its spear-like teeth. Then, it proceeds to shake the prey until it is dead (if the initial shock did not kill it). Then the prey is swallowed. In order to avoid neck trauma during the attack, the viperfish's first vertebra is broad and acts as a shock-absorber in addition to anchoring the powerful neck muscles. The viperfish can rotate its head up to widen its mouth so that it can consume prey larger than itself. In the process, the vital organs (heart and gills) are displaced; but due to the disturbance, it is speculated that the viperfish can swallow rapidly. Also, digestion is assumed to be fast because very few captured viperfish have food in their stomachs. Because of the scarceness of food, the viperfish's basal metabolism is very low, and it can go days without a meal. The

viperfish commonly eats crustaceans such as deep sea shrimp (multiple types) and small fish, especially lanternfish (Symbolophorus barnardi), due to their prevalence in the deep ocean huntinggrounds of Sloane's Viperfish. Because the viperfish is so well adapted to catching and consuming large quantities of food, it rarely encounters a deep-sea fish or crustacean it cannot eat, but when it encounters sharks or dolphins, the viperfish becomes the prey. Viperfish have not been observed to exhibit courtship behavior, but it is speculated that the photophores on its sides and dorsal fin play some role in finding mates. As solitary hunters, deep sea viperfish do not interact very often. When they do, it is theorized that the photophores may also be used in some manner of communication between potential mates or rivals. Because the viperfish has the capacity to eat nearly everything that swims too close to it, it does not need very many defense strategies. Its chief defense mechanism is the phosphorescent pigment on its sides and belly. The phosphors on its underside can mimic the glimmering of the lighter waters above. When the viperfish is in sufficiently shallow water, it is effectively camouflaged, so its bioluminescence can be used to disorient predators. Additionally, the viperfish is able to swim very quickly in short bursts despite its sedentary lifestyle. Like many other deep sea fish, the viperfish migrates up at night. During the nighttime, predators are scarce, even in the shallower zones of the ocean, so the viperfish hunts there for protein-rich shallow-water fish. Despite being rarely seen, Sloan's viperfish resides in tropical and temperate waters all over the world, excluding the northern Indian Ocean. The viperfish is pelagic, meaning that it spends it's entire life in the open ocean, spending no time near the shore. Specifically, the viperfish is bathypelagic, inhabiting the midnight zone. They are also known to exist in the lower midnight zone, or abyssopelagic zone, and migrate to the mosopelagic zone, also known as the twilight zone at night for more abundant prey. Where viperfish live, the ocean is constantly inky black and nearly freezing cold due to sunlight's inability to pass through the vast quantities of water above the midnight zone. The pressure is vast in the midnight zone, two tons per square inch in some places.

In its ecosystem, the viperfish fills the role of a predator, a higher level consumer. Since it is larger than most other fish around it and has the ability to devour creatures larger than itself, the viperfish is high in its food web. Viperfish are not the sole source of food for their predators, because dolphins and sharks feed on other fish in addition to viperfish. The viperfish is a heterotroph, not an autotroph due to the fact that it eats to live. Although it is not a common fish, the deep-sea viperfish population is seemingly stable. It is on neither the endangered nor the threatened species list. Therefore, no conservation or preservation efforts are made for it. This means that the species' population has been either determined as stable, or more likely, is incapable of being designated as threatened due to insufficient data. Because of its habitat in the deep and mostly unexplored midnight zone, researching the population of viperfish is nearly impossible. That is not to say that the viperfish warrants inclusion on the list; deep-sea creatures often exist in separate food webs from the creatures of shallower waters which humans affect more frequently. The only interactions humans and viperfish ever experience are when viperfish are accidentally caught by trawling nets or when viperfish are being observed by scientists. Viperfish are not purposefully hunted for food or any other reason, and are deemed to hold no commercial value. Still, organisms throughout the ocean are affected by human actions, directly of indirectly. The viperfish is renowned throughout the world for its fearsome appearance, and has inspired art, literature and myths. Recently, the “Hydrobot” design from the film, “Terminator Salvation” was based on the viperfish.

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