By Mindy Weisberger, Senior Writer | February 2, 2017 06:37am ET
Barbeled dragonfish — predatory fish with long, dark bodies that inhabit the deep sea — are unnerving to look at. Their name refers to glowing barbell-shaped lures that dangle from their oversize lower jaws and attract unsuspecting prey in the cold, dark ocean depths. Those jaws, studded with prominent, sharp teeth, can swing wide enough to gulp down large fish whole — even prey larger than the swallower.
And a new study has discovered one of the secrets to their exceptional gape — a specialized head joint that is unique to dragonfish.
This flexible structure connects the back of the fish's skull to the first vertebra in the backbone, the study authors found. By increasing head maneuverability, this feature could allow a dragonfish to tilt its head farther back as its lower jaw drops, enabling it to open its mouth as wide as 120 degrees.