Spooky Sea Creatures & Our Spooky Splash

It is that spooky time of year again! To get ready for Halloween, the NMLC put together some information and photos about some scary looking sea creatures. The oceans are full of some real life sea monsters… there are certainly more than the 13 listed below! Perhaps some of these will inspire creative Halloween costume ideas. Come visit us on October 29th for our Spooky Splash to learn more about these spooky sea creatures, enjoy arts and crafts, games and refreshments! Our Marine Animal Discovery Center will be open from 10am -2pm, costumes encouraged, we hope to see you there.

1. Goblin Shark (Mitsukurina owstoni)


Order: Lamniformes
Family: Mitsukurinidae
Genus: Mitsukurina
Species: M. Owstoni

This deep-water shark is believed to be widely distributed geographically, however only a very small amount have ever been caught. Their depth range is 30-1300 meters. Their maximum length is 617 cm (20 feet).

Identified by its long and flattened snout and pink coloration. They have very tiny eyes, a long caudal fin, and a protrusable jaws. They have been known to feed on octopus and crabs. The body shape suggests that it is slow moving shark, which makes it stand out from the other members of the Lamniformes Order. It is hard to believe that this odd looking creature is a close relative of sharks such as the mako and the great white.


2. Atlantic Ghost Crab (Ocypode quadrata)


Order: Decapoda
Infraorder: Brachyura
Family: Ocypodidae
Genus: Ocypode
Species: O. quadrata

The Atlantic ghost crab is approximately 2 inches across and sandy-white in color. The range on these small crabs is from Rhode Island to Brazil. They prefer sandy beaches and can be best seen at night due to the fact that they are primarily nocturnal. Ghost crabs are opportunistic and their diet consists mainly on small, dead sea animals that wash ashore (clams, mole crabs, etc…). They have also been known to eat sea turtle hatchlings and deposit feed on algae that is mixed in with sand.

There are more than 20 species of ghost crabs dispersed globally. Ghost crabs have very few predators and the #1 threat to their survival is habitat destruction caused by humans, such as erosion from beach traffic, oils spills, and pollutants.


3. Skeleton Shrimp (Infraorder Caprellida – consists of 12 families)


Order: Amphipoda
Suborder: Corophiidea
Infraorder: Caprellida

Skeleton shrimp are very small (1½ to 2 inches long). They have thin, delicate bodies with hooked rear legs. Skeleton shrimp have often been referred to as the “praying mantis of the sea” due to the way their front legs are positioned. The color ranges from transparent, tan, brown or reddish. Skeleton shrimp feed on detritus (dead material), algae and copepods.

The females of some species of skeleton shrimp have been reported to kill the males after they mate using a claw filled with poisonous venom.


4. Witch Eel (Venefica tentaculata)


Order: Anguilliformes
Family: Nettastomatidae
Genus: Venefica
Species: V. tentaculata

These marine eels reach a maximum length of 90 cm (35.4 inches) and live at depths of 100-500 meters. They are found in subtropical waters in the Western Pacific Ocean (off the coasts of Japan, California, and Central America).



5. Witch Flounder (Glyptocephalus cynoglossus)


Order: Pleuronectiformes
Family: Pleuronectidae
Genus: Glyptocephalus
Species: G. cynoglossus

Witch flounder are right-sided flatfish. They are bottom-dwellers and live at depths between 18-1570 meters. Along the US, they are found in the Atlantic Ocean from Canada down to North Carolina (they are also found in the Atlantic waters around Europe).

Witch flounder feed on small fish, crustaceans, sea stars, and various marine worms. They have large mucous pores on the side of their head, which lack their eye (called the “blind side”). They grow to a maximum length of 60 cm  (23.6 inches) and have a lifespan of approximately 25 years.


6. Vampire Squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis)


Order: Vampyromorpha
Family: Vampyroteuthidae
Genus: Vampyroteuthis
Species: V. infernalis

This deep dwelling cephalopod lives at depths of 300-3,000 meters. They are found in tropical and subtropical waters around the globe, but due to the vertical distribution the water temperature ranges from 2-6 °C (36-43 °F). Vampire squids live in a layer of the ocean with low oxygen levels and extremely low light levels (or no light at all!).

Vampire squids have 8 arms with webbing in between, black skin (which is hard to tell by the photograph above), a gelatinous body, bioluminescence, and large, red eyes. These eyes are the largest with respect to body size than any other animal in the world. They lack ink sacs like other squid, but can escape prey by moving in quick bursts and zig-zagging in the water.


7. Black Dragonfish (Idiacanthus atlanticus)

Order: Stomiiformes
Family: Stomiidae
Genus: Idiacanthus
Species: I. atlanticus

Black dragonfish live in tropical and subtropical waters and at depths ranging from 1239 to 2000 meters. They are bioluminescent, meaning they can produce their own light source. Unlike most deep dwelling animals, black dragonfish can see red and blue-green light.

Black dragonfish have long and slender shaped bodies. They have strong sexual dimorphism, with females being significantly larger than males. Females are approximately 40 cm (15.7 inches) long while males are only 5 cm (1.9 inches) long. Females have small eyes and long, fang-like teeth and males lack teeth (and have a non-functional gut!). Females are black in color and males are dark brown.


8. Coffinfish (Chaunax endeavouri)


Order: Lophiliformes
Family: Chaunacidae (Sea Toads)
Genus: Chaunax
Species: C. endeavouri

Coffinfish are members of the sea toad family. They reach a maximum length of 22 cm (8.6 inches). They live in temperate waters at depths ranging between 50-450 meters. Coffinfish are bottom-dwellers that inhabit the muddy continental shelf and the upper slope.

Little is known about the coffinfish, but there are a few interesting facts about them. The first is that their defense mechanism is similar to that of a pufferfish; they can use water to inflate their bodies in order to make themselves appear bigger. Perhaps the most interesting thing about coffinfish is their ability to literally walk on the sea floor. They have specialized fins that act as their “legs”.


9. Fangtooth (Anoplogaster cornuta)


Order: Beryciformes
Family: Anoplogastridae
Genus: Anoplogaster
Species: A. cornuta

Fangtooth are deep water fish that range from 2-4992 meters. They are found globally in tropical and temperate seas in the western Atlantic Ocean.

Fangtooth are blackish or dark brown in color. They have short bodies that are covered with small and prickly scales. They have a very large head and mouth with long, pointed teeth. Their maximum is 18.0 cm (7 inches). They feed on crustaceans and fish. Fangtooth fish congregate in small schools or are solitary.


10. Blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus)


Order: Scorpaeniformes
Family: Psychrolutidae
Genus: Psychrolutes
Species: P. marcidus

Blobfish are another deep-water fish that are found off the coasts of Australia and Tasmania. They live at depths ranging between 600-1200 meters. Their maximum length is 30 cm (11.8 inches).

Their flesh is very gelatinous and is actually less dense than the water they live in. Blobfish lack muscles. Very little is known about this rare fish and they are believed to be ambush predators that will eat anything they can fit into their mouth (most likely copepods). They have a very odd body shape which makes it seem as though they have a large nose and a frown on their face.


11. Zombie worms (Genus Osedax)


Order: Sabellida
Family: Siboglinidae
Genus: Osedax

Zombie worms are also known as “bone eating worms”. The females are sessile (stay attached to one place) and feed on the bones of whale carcasses that sink to the ocean floor. There are approximately 18 species of zombie worms.

Zombie worms do not have a mouth or a stomach, but instead have symbiotic bacteria that digest their food for them. They have a root system that bores into the bones of whales, making them look somewhat like flowers growing out of the carcass. Their upper body that is outside of the whale bones are covered in a mucous ball, which is suspected of being used as a defense mechanism.


12. Humpback Blackdevil Anglerfish (Melanocetus johnsonii)


Order: Lophiiformes
Family: Melanocetidae
Genus: Melanocetus
Species: M. johnsonii

The Blackdevil is found in deep waters (100-4,500 meters) in tropical and temperate oceans around the globe. Their diet consists of crustaceans.

Males and females are different sizes and look differently. Females are around 18 cm (7 inches) and males are only 2.9 cm (1.1 inches). Females have a larger head and mouth than males . Females have long pointed teeth and lures on the head, while males lack these lures. Males live on the females and are parasitic.


13. Hatchetfish (Sternoptyx obscura)


Order: Stomiiformes
Family: Sternoptychidae
Subfamily: Sternoptychinae
Genus: Sternoptyx
Species: S. obscura

Hatchetfish are small, deep-water fish (there is also a freshwater species with the same name, though un-related). They live at depths of 399-1259 meters in tropical and temperate seas globally. They reach a maximum length of 4.5 cm (1.7 inches).

Hatchetfish prey on small crustaceans and planktonic animals. They are bioluminescent with light-producing organs located in their stomachs, which they are able to regulate.



Posted by Kristen S.
Kristen is a Fall, 2011 Intern at the National Marine Life Center. She recently graduated from U Mass Dartmouth with a degree in Marine Biology.