It’s an alien world down below in the ocean’s deep. There are countless species of animals living there, and potentially thousands more that remained undiscovered. In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is a list of a few of the oceans most fierce—and strange—lovers, from the fish that mate for life to gender-bending sea worms,
French AngelfishIf there was ever a pair who lives, breathes and eats teamwork, the French Angelfish are it. In fact, it’s extremely rare to find a French Angelfish alone. The species form monogamous bonds that often last until the end of their lives, preferring to hunt, sleep, travel and fend off predators together, at all times. And while it may seem like these guys are a bit, er, co-dependent, their “joined-at-the-hip” approach to life ensures there’s always someone there to watch their back…and grab a late-night snack with.
SeahorsesWhile the French Angelfish may seem like the ideal picture of commitment, the seahorse falls a bit harder on the opposite side of the spectrum. While seahorses do bond with a mate, that bond usually only lasts through a single season…or, as like many of us two-legged mammals lament, until something flashier comes along. This swinger lifestyle may ensure a higher chance at impregnation with a variety of strong mates; however, researchers have found that the longer a pair mates together, the larger and more successful their broods are. Whatsmore, seahorses aren’t the strongest swimmers, making it difficult to keep switching it up. There is one species of seahorse that seems to enjoy sticking it out with one partner: the Hippocampus whitei, or the New Holland Seahorse, which is found in Australia.
OctopusMost guys would do just about anything to score the object of their affection. For the octopus, this doesn’t mean fancy dinners or flashy gifts. Rather, when it comes to winning over his sweetheart, the octopus wins in the “extreme measures” department by tearing off his own arm. The octopus’ legs have a variety of sophisticated biological functions embedded, one of which is fertilization. A specialized arm is responsible for sperm transfer; however, like with most species, sometimes the female isn’t as receptive to certain male propositions. After being rebuffed, some octopus species will tear off their special sperm-coated arm and throw it to a female (crossing their remaining appendages) and hoping it hits the “bull’s-eye.” Usually, after fertilization, the male octopus doesn’t live that much longer, making the octopus a true die-hard romantic (of sorts).
FlatwormsIf the octopus wins most extreme lover, the title of the strangest, most violent lover goes to the hermaphroditic flatworm, scientifically known as the Pseudobiceros hancockanus (yes, you read that right). Ensuring the propagation of their species means war to these unique sea creatures, who use their sex parts as “swords” in an epic mating duel. The flatworms “fence” until one has pierced the other’s skin and impregnated it, which ultimately decides which worm will become female until new flatworms are born and the odd mating ritual begins again.
ClownfishIt may come as quite a surprise that one of the ocean’s most recognizable fish species has a little-known trick up it sleeve. Like the flatworms, the Clownfish is a bit of a gender bender. Comprised of a delicate hierarchy, a Clownfish’s world includes members of a clan ranked based on their size. Females are always the largest, followed by the male and then the other fish classified as “non-breeding males.” If a female dies, the runner-up (the male) will change his sex in order to become the new matriarch. The “queen” then selects a non-breeding male to step up and start making babies. It may not sound romantic, but the system seems to be working.
Unfortunately for the Anglerfish, with its nasty underbite, a wicked set of needle-ish teeth and a whip-like frontal appendage, you could say it has a face only a mother could love. You would think that would put a serious damper on scoring a mate (eh, but then again, Anglerfish probably have a way different set of standards.) But, believe it or not, these prehistoric ocean dwellers have developed a mating ritual that could be considered even more frightening than their ugly mugs. Because the Anglerfish spends all its days in the deepest, darkest parts of the ocean, it’s pretty hard to find a date way down there. But no need to be discouraged; Mother Nature came up with a very unique solution to the dating needs of the Anglerfish.
After ocean researchers and scientists became perplexed when it seemed none of their fishing expeditions produced any male Anglerfish, they realized upon further exploration that it wasn’t that they didn’t exist, but rather, the male Anglerfish were “merging” with the females. Newborn Anglerfish come into the world as tiny, half-formed creatures without a functioning digestive system. As soon as they find a suitable female, the males latch onto her body and release an enzyme that fuses their skin into a permanent, ever-lasting seal with their lady love. When the process is complete, the male becomes nothing more than a bump on the female’s body; that is, until she’s ready to release eggs. When she does, her permanent hitchhiker releases sperm to fertilize a new batch of Anglerfish are sent into the deep sea dating pool.