Wyrms, dragons, sea serpents: From mythically symbolizing primordial chaos to supplying fodder for centuries of tall tales on the high seas, these creatures have occupied our collective imaginations for as long as anyone can remember. But could they exist -- or, at least, be based on something that does?
Over the years, we've advanced several candidates to explain alleged sightings of these legendary creatures, from porpoises swimming in single file to masses of seaweed, giant squids or even enormous nemertines (marine ribbon worms) [source: Encyclopaedia Britannica].
But none quite measures up like Regalecus glesne, a sort of ribbon fish that sweeps through the deep waters (650-3,000 feet, or roughly 200-900 meters) of the tropics and subtropics and reaches maximum lengths estimated at 30.5-50-plus feet (around 9-15-plus meters) [source: NOAA]. Named for the long, reddish and oar-like pelvic fins that trail roughly half its body length, the world's largest bony fish is also notable for its red dorsal fin and crest, which rises from its head like a rooster comb from hell [sources: Encyclopaedia Britannica; Griggs].
For all its fearsome size, the oarfish is harmless to anything but the tiny fish, shrimp or other invertebrates that filter into its toothless maw. It's also elusive. Unless sick or dying, these sinuous beasts rarely show up in human-frequented waters — a fact, we suspect, that only enhances its legendary status.
Author's Note: 10 Animals That Look Like Monsters
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and, in any case, has little to do with evolutionary fitness or survival. What might fail to win pageants or make the covers of Trapper Keepers might well thrive in environments more hostile than we can fathom and equip gear more perfectly suited to its needs than our dexterous fingers. Surely, there is beauty in that, too.
More Great Links
- Ayre, James. "Venezuelan Poodle Moth -- Facts, Hoax, Pictures." Planetsave. July 11, 2013. (Sept. 22, 2016) http://planetsave.com/2013/07/11/venezuelan-poodle-moth-facts-hoax-and-video/
- BBC. "Anglerfish." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Anglerfish
- California Academy of Sciences. "Panorpa nuptialis." (Oct. 14, 2014) http://research.calacademy.org/ent/resources/mecoptera/northamerica/panorpa_nuptialis
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Oarfish." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/423487/oarfish
- Encyclopaedia Britannica. "Sea Serpent." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/530718/sea-serpent
- Griggs, Mary Beth. "This Rare Footage Shows Two Live 15-Foot-Long Oarfish Swimming in the Ocean." Smithsonian magazine. April 7, 2014. (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/rare-footage-worlds-largest-fish-180950448/?no-ist
- IFL Science. "Creepiest Looking Animals in the World." (Sept. 22, 2016) http://www.wild-facts.com/2012/wild-fact-171-the-tooth-behind-the-squid-with-teeth/
- King, Rachel. "Isopods." Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. 2004. (Oct. 11, 2014) http://www.dnr.sc.gov/marine/sertc/Isopod%20Crustaceans.pdf
- Meyer, John. "Mecoptera." North Carolina State University. April 8, 2009. (Oct. 12, 2014) http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/course/ent425/library/compendium/mecoptera.html
- Mikkelson, David. "Venezuelan Poodle Moth." Snopes. July 10, 2013. (Sept. 22, 2016) http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/poodlemoth.asp
- National Geographic. "Aye-Aye." (Sept. 23, 2016) http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/aye-aye/
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). "Oarfish (Regalecus glesne Ascanius)" (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/speciesid/fish_page/fish82a.html
- Nelson, Bryan. "13 of the ugliest animals on the planet: Aye-aye." Mother Nature Network. Feb. 16, 2016. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/13-of-the-ugliest-animals-on-the-planet/aye-aye#top-desktop
- Nelson, Bryan. "13 of the ugliest animals on the planet: Star-nosed mole." Mother Nature Network. Feb. 16, 2016. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/photos/13-of-the-ugliest-animals-on-the-planet/star-nosed-mole#top-desktop
- Pietsch, Theodore W. "Oceanic Anglerfishes: Extraordinary Diversity in the Deep Sea." University of California Press. April 2009.
- Pietsch, Theodore W. "Precocious Sexual Parasitism in the Deep Sea Ceratioid Anglerfish, Cryptopsaras Couesi Gill." Nature. Vol. 256. Page 38. July 3, 1975. (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v256/n5512/abs/256038a0.html
- Science Explained. "Is the Venezuelan Poodle Moth as soft and cuddly as it looks?" Sept. 4, 2013. (Sept. 22, 2016) http://science-explained.com/blog/2013/09/04/is-the-venezuelan-poodle-moth-as-soft-and-cuddly-as-it-looks/
- Simon, Matt. "The Ferocious Bug That Sucks Prey Dry and Wears Their Corpses." Wired. June 20, 2014. (Oct. 12, 2014) http://www.wired.com/2014/06/absurd-creature-of-the-week-assassin-bug/
- Simon, Matt. "This Parasite Eats a Fish's Tongue -- and Takes Its Place." Wired. Nov. 22, 2013. (Oct. 11, 2014) http://www.wired.com/2013/11/absurd-creature-of-the-week-the-parasite-that-eats-and-replaces-a-fishs-tongue/
- Stromberg, Joseph. "How the Star-Nosed Mole 'Sees' With Its Ultra-Sensitive Snout." Smithsonian. Jan. 30, 2013. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-the-star-nosed-mole-sees-with-its-ultra-sensitive-snout-8926067/?no-ist
- Tumlison, Renn. "A Flying Scorpion is Harmless." Henderson State University. (Oct. 11, 2014) http://www.hsu.edu/pictures.aspx?id=1302
- The Wildlife Trusts. "Scorpion Fly (Panorpa communis)." (Oct. 13, 2014) http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/species/scorpion-fly
- ViralNova. "10 Reasons Why The Giant Spider Crab Is The Crustacean Of Your Nightmares." Oct. 25, 2014. (Sept. 23, 2016) http://www.viralnova.com/nightmare-giant-spider-crab/
- Wild Facts. "Wild Fact #171 -- The 'Tooth' Behind the Squid With Teeth." (Sept. 22, 2016) http://www.wild-facts.com/2012/wild-fact-171-the-tooth-behind-the-squid-with-teeth/
Snakes are known to hide out in unexpected places. How can snakes come up toilet pipe? Learn more about snakes in toilet pipes at HowStuffWorks.