By Emily McFarland
When October comes through and the sky gets dark and the fog rolls in, the time comes to celebrate the creepy crawler critters that lurk in the shadows. That’s just what we did on Friday, October 20th, at the Burke Museum for an event called Creepy Crawly Cocktails. Biologists of all sorts selected the creepiest, crawliest specimen from our collection to put on display for the public, and I was lucky enough to participate in showcasing some terrifically terrifying individuals from the fish collection. As much as ichthyologists may love fishes, nobody can deny that some true terrors lurk in the depths—and sometimes even in the shallows!
We gathered an impressive array of horrors of all sorts, from the bizarre, like the oozing hagfish and strangely modified ratfish, to the downright fearsome, like the gnarly teeth of the lancetfish and alien-esque jaws of the moray eel. We even presented the handsome lionfish. Although its quills and toxins may be nasty, the true horror of the lionfish is more of an environmental sort—these voracious hunters are an invasive species in the Caribbean, and with no natural predators, they’re impacting the natural biodiversity of the area before we can even discover it! A true nightmare for ichthyologists everywhere.
The event was a grand success! Loaded with questions, participants flocked to our table. They marveled at the bizarre reproductive strategy of the ratfish, clad with not one, not two, but four sex organs, one of which being located on the forehead. They carefully examined a bottle of wine, confiscated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for its unusual ingredient profile: ginseng, goji berries, shaving of elk and antlers, and most shockingly of all, whole seahorses. They recoiled with disgust and swore off swimming at the sight of the jawless, many-toothed mouth of the lamprey. Most importantly, they got the opportunity to engage with our underwater world and catch a glimpse of just how incredible—though occasionally frightening—it can be.