Hagfish – an eel-like species – are known for their prodigious slime production, which helps them escape predators (and, in some cases, seriously muck up highways). Part of the hagfish’s slime consists of ~10 cm fibers that the creature deploys in tiny skeins (bottom) only a hundred microns across. To form the viscoelastic slime that thwarts its predators, those skeins of fiber have to unravel and do so in only tenths of a second. A new study shows that viscous drag plays a major role in that unraveling.
Most fish use a suction method to catch prey. In the hagfish’s case, that does the predator more harm than good because the very flow it creates to try and catch the hagfish pulls the slime skein apart and helps the slime expand 10,000 times in volume, creating a mess that chokes the gills of the attacking fish. (Image credit: top – L. Böni et al.; bottom – G. Choudhary et al., source; research credit: G. Choudhary et al.; via Ars Technica; submitted by Kam Yung Soh)