Common name: Hagfishes

An ancient and unique lineage of primitive eel-like marine fishes  that mostly inhabit deeper temperate seas. 

Hagfishes are renowned for their slime-producing abilities, and lack true jaws, and have degenerate eyes and many gill openings. They also have a single semicircular canal, and a single olfactory canal. They also lack vertebral centra, and rely only a notochord to support the body.

They play an important role in recycling organic matter and other nutrients in the ecosystems they inhabit. Hagfishes are scavengers and burrow into dead or dying fishes, invertebrates and marine mammals to feed on their insides. They also prey on small fishes and invertebrates.

Hagfishes are captured for food and their skins which are manufactured into leather. In parts of the world, hagfish populations are threatened by over-fishing.

Hagfishes have an evolutionary history dating back 300 M yrs. They share a joint ancestor with the entire vertebrate lineage. The class contains a single order and family with about 80 described species.

Author: Dianne J. Bray

Cite this page as:
Hagfishes, MYXINI in Fishes of Australia, accessed 21 Jun 2024,


Bardack D. 1991. First fossil hagfish (Myxinoidea) – a record from the Pennsylvanian of Illinois. Science 254: 701–703.

Clark, A.J. & Summers, A.P. 2007. Morphology and kinematics of feeding in hagfish: possible functional advantages of jaws. J. Exp. Biol. 210: 3897–3909.

Fernholm B, Norén M, O Kullander S, Quattrini AM, Zintzen V, Roberts CD, Mok H-K, Kuo C-H. 2013. Hagfish phylogeny and taxonomy, with description of the new genus Rubicundus (Craniata, Myxinidae). Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 51: 296–307.

Fudge, D.S., Levy, N., Chiu, S. & Gosline, J.M. 2005. Composition, morphology and mechanics of hagfish slime. Journal of Experimental Biology 208: 4613-4625. doi: 10.1242/​jeb.01963.

Glover, C.N., Bucking, C. & Wood, C.M. 2011. Adaptations to in situ feeding: novel nutrient acquisition pathways in an ancient vertebrate. Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences 278: 3096-3101. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2010.2784.

Heimberg AM, Cowper-Sallari R, Sémon M, Donoghue PCJ, Peterson KJ (2010) microRNAs reveal the interrelationships of hagfish, lampreys, and gnathostomes and the nature of the ancestral vertebrate. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 107: 19379–19383.

Janvier, P. 2008. Early jawless vertebrates and cyclostome origins. Zool. Sci. 25: 1045–1056.

Janvier, P. 2010. MicroRNAs revive old views about jawless vertebrate divergence and evolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A. 107: 19137-19138.

Jorgensen, J.M., J.P. Lomholt, R.E. Weber & H. Malte (eds). 1997. The biology of hagfishes. London: Chapman and Hall.

Knapp, L., Mincarone, M. M., Harwell, H., Polidoro, B., Sanciangco, J. & Carpenter, K. 2011, Conservation status of the world's hagfish species and the loss of phylogenetic diversity and ecosystem function. Aquatic Conserv: Mar. Freshw. Ecosyst. 21: 401–411. doi: 10.1002/aqc.1202

Lim, J., Fudge, D.S., Levy, N. & Gosline, J.M. 2006. Hagfish slime ecomechanics: testing the gill-clogging hypothesis. Journal of Experimental Biology 209: 702-710. doi: 10.1242/jeb.02067.

Near, T.J. 2009. Conflict and resolution between phylogenies inferred from molecular and phenotypic data sets for hagfish, lampreys, and gnathostomes. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution 312B: 749–761.

Nelson, J.S. 2006. Fishes of the World. New Jersey : John Wiley & Sons 601 pp.

Ota, K.G., Kuraku, S. & Kuratani, S. 2007. Hagfish embryology with reference to the evolution of the neural crest. Nature 446: 672–675.

Strahan, R. 1963. The behavior of myxinoids. Acta Zoologica 44: 73–102. doi:10.1111/j.1463-6395.1963.tb00402.x.

Winegard, T.M. & Fudge, D.S. 2010. Deployment of hagfish slime thread skeins requires the transmission of mixing forces via mucin strands. Journal of Experimental Biology 213: 1235–1240. doi: 10.1242/​jeb.038075

Zintzen, V., Roberts, C.D., Anderson, M.J., Stewart, A.L., Struthers, C.D. & Harvey, E.S. 2011. Hagfish predatory behaviour and slime defence mechanism. Scientific Reports 1 131. doi:10.1038/srep00131