This Hinged Skull Helps Dragonfish Eat Prey Bigger Than Its Head

Feb 24, 2017

By Jackson Landers

Don’t try to eat anything bigger than your own head. That’s good advice for most living things, but a group of creatures called the dragonfishes found an evolutionary way to break that rule.

A pair of scientists have discovered how the dragonfishes are able to swallow prey that is almost as big as they are. They found the first known hinged cranium in a fish and described it recently in the journal Plos One.

These dozens of dragonfish species live in extremely deep areas of the ocean in almost total darkness. With a long, glowing barbel hanging beneath their face, the creatures uses bioluminescence to attract prey. But in the deep, dark ocean it could be months between one fish sighting and another. So these dragonfishes must be able to take advantage of any opportunity to eat—even something nearly their own size.

“Probably close to 100 years ago someone looked at the anatomy of dragonfishes and noticed that there was a gap by the brain case,” says Dave Johnson, a curator in the division of fishes at Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and co-author of the study along with Nalani Schnell of the Muséum national d’Histore naturelle at the Sorbonne in Paris. “But at that time they didn’t have X-rays.”

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