Halloween is more than a week away, but if you're looking for a great reason to celebrate, today is Hagfish Day.
The hagfish (Myxinidae) vaguely resembles an eel but is jawless, boneless, and scaleless. Even better, it's "really terribly gross," says Ruth Musgrave, director of WhaleTimes.org, a Web site that connects schoolchildren with deep-sea researchers and provides kid-friendly fact sheets on marine science.
"In general, science programs highlight the cute, ... but an ecosystem needs everything," says Musgrave, a former marine science educator and freelance children's writer. The idea behind Hagfish Day, which debuted last year, is to encourage children to "look at everybody in the food web," even members as unattractive as the hagfish.
Besides looking like a lump of raw flesh, hagfish have some pretty disgusting habits. They ooze slime through pores in their skin, which they use to smother prey and evade predators. "A 19- or 20-inch hagfish can fill a 2-gallon bucket with slime in minutes," says Musgrave. If that wasn't gross enough, she says, the way the hagfish feeds is "equally disgusting." Part of its diet consists of dead animals: Entering them through the mouth, anus, or gills of a carcass, it eats away the inside, leaving behind just the skin. "They're a wonderful scavenger of the deep," says Musgrave.