So I am one of those rare people who doesn’t like to be alone. I know, l know, most folks-even happily coupled ones, find this creepy. I totally understand. I freely admit that this is not a propensity that everyone has. Also understand that I am not a co-dependent; in fact anyone that knows me well knows that I am not the type to rely upon my significant other to provide my identity or social circle. On the
contrary I am a fairly unique human who brings her own eccentricities and hobbies to the mix. It’s simply that I am also one of those creatures that was not intended to be solitary, I am hyper-social. I only thrive when there are other humans around. The idea of the colony of the bee or naked mole rat is a veritable utopia for me.
It is just this impulse that led me to identify not only with such creatures as Eagles and Beavers (creatures that mate for life) but with an animal who takes things even further: the Anglerfish.
While there are several different species of anglerfish the ones that I find most fascinating are those belonging to the suborder Ceratioidei. These anglers live in the
deep sea, an environment so inhospitable that there are very few creatures who live there. This can be problematic not only when trying for a mate but also when attempting to locate prey. When it comes to hunting the anglerfish has evolved an enticing lure in the form of a fleshy growth which dangles from a filament attached to it’s head, hanging right in front of it’s giant jaws. In our deep sea dwelling friends this lure is also bioluminescent; the angler wiggles it’s glowing head blob about to attract prey in the black of the ocean deep.
The anglerfish is nothing if not resourceful, so how does it find a mate while loafing around in the briny deep? This question befuddled scientists until relatively recently. In fact when they first started hauling anglerfish up from the ocean they were confused because every single specimen they found was female. Even more mystifying was that many of these females appeared to be infested with the same kind of parasite. Turns out that those “parasites” were actually the male anglerfish who had fused to the females. In fact the male anglerfish, who is significantly smaller than the female, is only able to survive to maturity if he is able to find, and chomp onto, a female. He finds his mate solely by scent; swimming about blindly, he sniffs the water for the presence of female pheromones, a smell that not only represents a chance at love but also a reprieve from certain death. In the unlikely event that the male does find a lady, he must act quickly-biting onto her he releases an enzyme that “digests the skin of his mouth and her body, fusing the pair down to the blood-vessel level”. They will stay like this for the rest of their lives. The female “host” supplying nutrients and blood to their now joint circulatory system and the male, for his part, supplying his genetic material in the form of sperm. It is not unusual to find more than one male attached to a single female. In one case scientists reported finding a female with eight males living
on (off?) her. Practicing sexual parasitism and polyamory while paradoxically committing to the most permanent coupling biologically possible?! This species has much to teach us about unorthodox relationships; it may just have discovered the best of all possible worlds.
So you may be reading this thinking uncomfortably: “does this mean she want to be surgically attached to Tommy? Is that where she is going with all this?” No, rest assured, I do not (although that would be the best “Go Fund Me” ever). Sure, I struggle sometimes when all alone in the house (I tried to alleviate this by acquiring numerous pets but it’s just not the same) but I have grown to recognize the importance of having space and time alone in maintaining a healthy relationship-I have read the research and have seen it borne out in my own relationship. Luckily I am not faced with a life lived in a dark, vast, and desolate world; one where an individual may go days or even weeks without glimpsing another living creature. In this context I can understand the anglerfish’s choice, remarkably it seems that there are some circumstances where the company of a shriveled, sad-sack, parasite is better than being alone.