If you aren’t at least a little bit scared of the deepest parts of the ocean, you’re lying. It’s vast, cold, and dark, and almost entirely unexplored. It’s estimated that there are up to a million undiscovered species down there, and the ones we know about are literally prehistoric. It’s a scary place.
Now, thanks to The Ocean Twilight Zone Project, we can enjoy some incredibly detailed photos of the creatures that call this part of the ocean their home.
‘The Twilight Zone’ is defined as 200 to 1000 metres below sea level, and evidently, nature gets really weird when it has never seen the sun.
That’s an elongated bristlemouth, and it will absolutely haunt your dreams tonight, and for that I am sorry. Don’t let that close-up fool you, though; bristlemouths are actually tiny.
Doctor Heidi Sosik, a biologist from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution who is leading the Ocean Twilight Zone project, explained to The New York Times that the majority of creatures living in the deepest parts of the ocean are really small. Their bodies have adapted to the lack of food, because small things need less food to survive.
This is a hatchetfish photographed alongside the tip of a pencil, to give you an idea of how tiny it is.
Like many of the fish that live in the ocean’s deep, hatchetfish are able to create their own light using photophores. These help them blend in with the light coming down from the surface, making them invisible to predators. This use of bioluminescence is called ‘counter-illumination’.
This happy little Vegemite is a Sloane’s viperfish, and even though it could fit in the palm of your hand, it’s considered one of the biggest predators down in the Twilight Zone. Its teeth are too large for its mouth to close properly, so when it captures its prey, it closes its jaw around it like a cage, imprisoning it before chowing down.
The photo at the top of this article is of a lanternfish, and there are roughly 250 species of lanternfish in the Twilight Zone. They typically don’t grow any bigger than a human index finger, but there are so many of them that they’re able to trick sonar.
Even though these tiny fish look terrifying, they’re also kind of mesmerising. Pretty sure if you stared at one for too long it would find a way to enter your brain and control you from within, though.
For more on these unique creatures, read The New York Times’ report on the Ocean Twilight Zone project’s expedition.