When beachgoers at the town of Tirúa, Chile caught this writhing, slimy creature, they had no idea what it was.
Hagfish are outliers. Their lineage split off from all the world’s more familiar fish long, long ago—probably before they evolved a backbone, something hagfish still lack. Sometimes called “slime eels”—they are slimy, but they’re not eels—hagfish have changed surprisingly little in 300 million years. They make their home on the ocean floor, often very deep. They’re certainly not what Lissete Hermosilla and some friends and family were angling for on a recent fishing trip in the coastal town of Tirúa, Chile. But when they realized that the strange creature had gotten caught up in their fishing gear, they untangled it and set it down to identify. Hermosilla may have found the hagfish’s slime a little gross at first, but she was pleased to see that it made its twisting way back to the ocean.