If you’re looking for some of the creepiest deep sea creatures on the planet, look no further than the Mariana Trench, located in the Pacific Ocean directly east of the Philippines. Neither these scary-looking sea monsters nor the trench itself — largely considered one of the creepiest places in the ocean — are for the faint of heart.
The deepest part of any of Earth’s oceans, the Mariana Trench is five times longer than the Grand Canyon and would be 7,000 feet deeper than Mount Everest if the peak was submerged there. There is no sunlight at 3,280 feet below the surface; the pressure at the bottom is 1,000 times greater than at sea level; and the temperature hovers just above freezing. Any living animals swimming in its murky depths require specialized adaptations, such as bioluminescence — AKA the ability to glow in the dark — or glowing photophores, bodily organs that emit light, to survive.
The creatures that live in the Mariana Trench have adapted, but they’ve adopted terrifying appearances in exchange. Scientists and filmmakers continue to study the largely unexplored area, but who are these creepy Mariana Trench creatures, and what makes them special?
Fanfin seadevils are a type of angler fish, and they have a bioluminescent lure used in attracting prey as well as in avoiding becoming prey itself. The hairy-looking spikes on its body are sensors that help the fish balance as well as check the water for surrounding entities and prey, not unlike a cat’s whiskers.
Fanfin seadevils may be some of the scariest creatures you’ve ever seen, but at least they’re tiny. Females are about six to eight inches long while males are even smaller, measuring only about a half inch in length. The males are known as “sexual parasites,” and during the mating process, they latch onto the female and essentially fuse themselves permanently onto her body in order to reproduce.
Zombie worms, also called osedax, are not your typical zombies. Instead of brains, these creepy creatures eat the bones of whales and other fish. But because they don’t actually have mouths, zombie worms secrete acid to dissolve the bone and bacteria. Then, the worm digests the protein and fat. Incidentally, the females are the bone-eaters while the males live inside the females. They certainly make human zombies sound a lot more normal.
Deep Sea Hatchetfish
Hatchetfish get their name from the shape of their bodies, which are extremely thin and blade-like. They have large eyes that are sensitive to light and point upward, allowing them to see food coming from above.
These unusual fish also possess glowing photophores along their sides and bellies (like a firefly), allowing them to hide in the ocean depths by countering the light coming from above. This makes them nearly invisible to both predators and prey in the ocean’s depths.
Dumbo octopuses look like characters straight out of a Disney movie. In fact, they got their name from the Disney elephant with similar long, floppy ears. On the octopus, these floppy “ears” are actually fins, but, like Dumbo’s, they are used to fly — in this case, through the water.
The Dumbo octopus has a semi-translucent body and a squat shape, growing up to 12 inches long. Of all octopus species, they are the deepest living, some inhabit the depths as low as 23,000 feet.
These fish could be straight out of a horror movie and are named after their scary teeth that, in relation to their body size, are the largest in the ocean. In fact, their teeth are so long, the roof of their mouths have special pockets in which to store them when their jaws are closed. Fangtooth fish do not have good eyesight, and they are believed to hunt by literally bumping into their prey, sensing vibrations and movement in the water.
Comb jellies are the ravers of the sea. Their transparent bodies are adorned with tiny bioluminescent combs that refract light as they move, giving them the appearance of shimmering rainbows. They have no bones or shells and are made up of more than 95% water. Comb jellies have two tentacles that they use to pull food into their mouths. These jellies are also cannibals, even eating comb jellies bigger than themselves.
This creepy creature is transparent and practically colorless, so it can easily hide its ghost-like appearance from predators in the murky depths. Telescope octopuses are found between 500 and 6,500 feet below sea level and can reach up to eight inches long. It gets its name from its tubular eyes, which are able to rotate. To hunt their prey, they simply hide in the dark and move their eyes around like tentacles.
Deep Sea Dragonfish
Dragonfish are one of many of the deep sea’s “super black fish.” They have extremely large teeth as well as photophores along their sides that glow, attracting both prey and mates. This peculiar fish has a long protrusion on its chin, also equipped with a photophore, which it uses like a fishing pole to lure in its victims. Although they look terrifying, they are actually only about six inches long.
You can always identify a goblin shark by its protruding, flattened snout. They also have between 31 to 62 rows of lower teeth and 35 to 53 rows of upper teeth sticking out of their scary-looking jaws. Specialized joints allow these jaws to move forward.
Goblin sharks are slow moving and track their prey using smell, sight, and electro-perception to wait until their victim is unaware. There have only been a few sightings of these sharks, so they are believed to be extremely rare.
The vampire squid is the last surviving member of the Vampyromorphida order and shares similarities with both the squid and the octopus. Like the Dumbo octopus, it has ear-like fins that help it swim, and it’s jellyfish-like gelatinous body allows it to move quickly. Vampire squid are also covered in photophores that allow them to create patterned light shows to confuse their prey.
When threatened, this creepy creature can pull the webbing between its tentacles over its head to hide.
The Granrojo jellyfish, affectionately known to researchers as Big Red, is a relatively recent discovery observed only in the mid-1990s and categorized as a new species in 2003. Unlike other jellies, Big Red has stumps instead of tentacles, and each of the jellies that have been discovered have had a different amount. Unlike many deep sea creatures, the Granrojo jellyfish does not have a transparent body.
Take a close look at this fish’s head. What looks like eyes are actually its nostrils, and its real eyes are the green globes inside the transparent dome of its head. This fish may look like it’s straight out of a sci-fi or fantasy film, but its special eyes are ultra sensitive and are able to see prey in the extreme dark of the deep ocean.
Barreleye fish also have flat fins that allow them to float in the water without having to move.
Black Seadevil Anglerfish
If this fish looks familiar, it’s because a similar fish crept up on an unsuspecting Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo. The black seadevils are anglerfish, and like most anglerfish, they have a glowing protrusion on their head, called an esca. They use this like a lantern to lure in prey, capturing them in their huge jaws. Their mouths are so big, it is thought they can actually eat prey bigger than they are.
Viperfish can be identified by their large, fearsome teeth. The teeth on the bottom jaw are so large, they don’t fit inside the viperfish’s mouth. They have a long lure with a photophore on their dorsal fin, which glows and attracts prey. Scientists believe viperfish swim after their victims at high speeds and crush them in their powerful jaws. Viperfish have also been spotted floating motionless, waving their lure above their head to attract their next meal.
Frilled sharks have long, slender bodies that make them resemble an eel with fins. They are also called “living fossils” as they belong to a species that changed very little and survived over millions of years. A frilled shark’s mouth contains 25 rows of teeth, but unlike other sharks, scientists believe they hunt more like snakes.
Scientists have also observed these sharks possibly carrying their offspring in their wombs for up to three-and-a-half years.
This deep-water jellyfish sports anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 tiny tentacles that allow it to move quickly through the depths of the sea. Benthocodon can grow up to four centimeters in diameter, so they are relatively tiny. They also sport a transparent bell with inner workings that are usually red in color. Scientists believe the bell is used to cover up all the bioluminescent creatures it has eaten and are currently being digested.
Football fish are yet another member of the deep sea’s angler family. Each female football fish has a lantern on her head, which she uses to attract prey. It glows in the murky depths of the ocean thanks to a special bacteria, and the fish gently sway their light back and forth. When a meal gets close enough, the football fish shoot a luminescent liquid at it, grabs their prey while it is blinded and swallows it whole with their very large mouth.
The females can grow up to two feet long — males are slightly smaller — and participate in an unusual mating process. Because it’s hard to see in the deep ocean, males bite onto the females until their skin grows together. The female nourishes the male who then fertilizes her eggs.