In the cold, dark underworld of the deep ocean, a myriad of strange and terrifying creatures thrive. With no sunlight to illuminate their unsightly features, they’ve evolved into some of the ugliest beings on earth.
But deep water creatures are oblivious to human values. They don’t care if their teeth stick out or their heads are completely transparent. They’re just doing what they can to survive in a dark and dangerous world.
To us, however, they appear astonishingly ugly, especially when dragged from their natural environment and exposed to our own.
We’ve gone to great lengths to find the ugliest fish in the world, and now it’s up to you to decide which ones would haunt your dreams and make your skin crawl.
Is the Blobfish the Most Ugly Fish?
Since 2013, the blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus) has become something of a poster boy for the world’s ugliest creatures.
It’s the official mascot of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society and has been for nearly a decade. It seems few other creatures disgust us quite as thoroughly as the amorphous blobfish!
The sad thing about the blobfish’s status as the ugliest fish in the sea is that in its natural habitat, it looks relatively normal.
The blobfish is perfectly adapted to live in a deep-water habitat some 2,000 to 4,000 feet below the sea’s surface.
There, the pressure is nearly 120 times greater than it is on the surface, so it’s hardly surprising that the blobfish’s appearance changes when that pressure’s removed.
Most fish have swim bladders to help them stay buoyant, but at 4,000 feet deep, those gas-filled cavities would collapse under pressure.
Instead, the blobfish’s body “has a high water and fat content,” which helps it withstand the high pressure.
Between the blobfish’s skin and muscles is a thick layer of gelatinous flesh that gives it some element of buoyancy.
According to science communicator Henry Reich, that’s “because the only way to combat the extreme pressure of deep water is to have water as your structural support.”
Another adaptation that makes the blobfish so ugly on land is its lack of muscle. Instead of red muscle, the blobfish has a lot of white muscle.
As a result, they don’t speed through the water like tuna or black marlin but simply bob about and lunge at any unsuspecting prey as it drifts past.
To make this hunting strategy as effective as possible, the blobfish concentrates all its skeletal strength into its jaw, leaving the rest of its body poorly supported.
So, while the blobfish may be the ugliest fish on earth, it’s perfectly designed to thrive in the chilly depths of our oceans, where life is ruled by the ability to survive rather than physical appearances.
10 of the Ugliest Fish in the World
The blobfish is by no means the only ugly fish swimming in our seas, and there’s some tough competition from some other deep-sea species, many of whom could star in their own horror movies.
This list of the ugliest fish in the world is by no means exhaustive, and if you’ve come across any repulsive ocean-dwellers you’d like to see added to the list, please let us know in the comments at the end.
#1 Blobfish (Psychrolutes marcidus)
The blobfish wins the ugliest fish in the world award by a large, squishy nose. Its gelatinous body collapses at sea level, leaving an amorphous mass of pink jello in its wake.
Its large mouth is fixed in a permanent grimace, while its small button eyes stare out from a bulbous head.
The blobfish was voted the ugliest fish in the world 10 years ago, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s going to knock it off its pedestal anytime soon.
#2 Anglerfish (Linophrynidae)
There are over 200 species of anglerfish in the world, all of which deserve a spot in our list of the ugliest fish in the world.
They all have large heads and big mouths filled with fierce-looking teeth that act as both daggers and “bars of a cage.”
Some species can open their mouths so wide they can trap prey much bigger than themselves.
The female anglerfish is much larger and uglier than its male counterpart and has a rod of flesh protruding from its forehead that it uses as a lure.
Like blobfish, anglerfish are lethargic, deep-sea fish that live up to 6,600 feet below the surface, where the sunlight never penetrates.
By producing a bioluminescent light at the end of their rods, the females lure their prey close to their giant months before using suction to pull them in.
Although the competition for the ugliest anglerfish is almost as fierce as the fish themselves, the black seadevil and ghostly seadevil are slightly ahead of their rivals in terms of unsightly appearances.
#3 Monkfish (Lophius americanus)
The only monkfish I’ve ever met had a lovely texture and delicious, sweet flavor.
Honestly, monkfish is one of my favorite meals, but if I saw one swimming toward me, I certainly wouldn’t take a bite out of it!
Monkfish are also known as poor man’s lobster because the two marine creatures have a similar taste and texture.
Monkfish are far less attractive than lobster, however, with their gelatinous bodies and unsightly overbites.
Like blobfish, monkfish are bottom-dwellers that use stealth and ambush to capture their prey.
These voracious eaters consume anything they can get their fang-like teeth into, including fish, crustaceans, squid, and even diving ducks!
#4 Sloane’s Viperfish (Chauliodus sloani)
With their huge heads and even bigger teeth, Sloane’s Viperfish is the stuff of nightmares. Their teeth are so large that they protrude from their large mouths like an elephant’s tusks.
As in the blobfish, these teeth act as both daggers and the bars of a cage, trapping small prey inside their large, hinged jaws. Sloane’s viperfish prey mainly on lanternfish but aren’t particularly choosy about what they eat.
Measuring just two to 10 inches long, they’re too small to harm a human but plenty ugly enough to scare one!
#5 Hagfish (Myxini)
Hagfish aren’t so ugly in appearance as they are in behavior.
With their long, tubular bodies and pink-grey skin, they resemble eels more than other fish, but unlike eels, they can also produce a particularly revolting slimy substance that quickly expands.
Just one teaspoon of hagfish slime “will expand by 10,000 times” in half a second, producing “enough to fill a sizable bucket.”
As if that’s not horrible enough, hagfish don’t have jaws or eyes but use a cartilaginous “rasping tongue” to shovel food into their funnel-shaped mouths.
The hagfish’s diet and feeding technique make it even more revolting. Feeding almost exclusively on dying or dead carcasses, hagfish bury themselves in the flesh before eating their way out.
#6 Goblin Shark (Mitsukurina owstoni)
The goblin shark is weird and not in a wonderful way. It has a long snout, translucent skin, and a ridiculous number of teeth.
Not only are those teeth sharp and pointed, but they also protrude far from the shark’s mouth.
When a goblin shark strikes at its prey, it flings its jaws forward like a slingshot, giving its victim one last deathly grimace before it meets its end.
Dating back some 125 million years, this living fossil feeds on fish, squid, and crustaceans, using its slingshot jaw and powerful suction to capture its unsuspecting victims.
#7 Red-lipped Batfish (Ogcocephalus darwini)
Red-lipped batfish look like they’re at least making to improve their appearance by applying a heavy layer of bright red lipstick.
Unfortunately, it also has a big nose, a bristly beard, and a mustache. Its large nose is really a fleshy appendage called an illicium, which it uses as a chemical lure to attract its prey.
The red lips, on the other hand, are used for similar reasons as lipstick is in humans – to attract a mate.
Another curious adaptation of this bottom-dwelling monster is that it prefers to walk rather than swim.
Red-lipped batfish aren’t very strong swimmers, but their modified fins enable them “walk” along the ocean floor as it hunts for small fish and crustaceans.
#8 Atlantic Wolffish (Anarhichas lupus)
The Atlantic Wolffish has protruding teeth that give it an almost goofy expression that belies its powerful bite.
Atlantic Wolffish have “a notorious biting reflex,” says Professor Björn Thrandur Björnsson, the head of the fish endocrinology laboratory at the University of Gothenburg.
Some neuromuscular reflex tells the fish to bite the moment it detects something in its mouth. This reflex is so strong that it persists even after the fish has been decapitated!
With their strong jaws, Atlantic Wolffish prey on clams, mussels, and sea urchins, crushing their shells effortlessly.
Like our other ugly fish, they are lethargic bottom-dwellers that live deep in the ocean.
To protect themselves against the frigid waters, Atlantic Wolffish “produce a natural antifreeze that keeps their blood from freezing.” It doesn’t make them any prettier, though.
#9 Barreleye Fish (Opisthoproctidae)
The barreleye fish is sometimes known as the spook fish, presumably because it’s extremely creepy!
Its large, tubular eyes gaze out from a completely transparent head, giving it an otherworldly appearance.
This unconventional look gives the barreleye an unusual advantage, however. It can distinguish bioluminescence from sunlight, meaning it can see through the disguises employed by many fish species.
Some fish have glowing bellies that disguise their silhouette and protect them against predators, but it doesn’t fool the barreleye.
Barreleyes can also rotate their eyes, following the prey’s descent until it’s the perfect time to attack.
Using this unique approach, barreleyes feed on a diet of zooplankton and siphonophores, which are a type of single-celled marine organism.
#10 Pointy-Nosed Blue Chimaera (Hydrolagus trolli)
From some angles, the pointy-nosed blue chimera could almost be described as cute. From others, it’s downright terrifying.
Also known as the abysmal ghost shark, the pointy-nosed blue chimera has large eyes and almost leather-like skin.
Its blue-grey coloration gives it its characteristically ghost-like appearance, while its eyes look like something a zombie left behind.
Unlike most of our ugly fish, however, some people find the pointy-nosed blue chimera “beautiful.” Some people even make them sound cute, referring to them as “water bunnies” rather than ghost sharks.
Why are these Fish so “Ugly”?
These ugly fish have adapted to their deepwater environment, changing their anatomy to survive the darkness, extreme water pressure, and lack of food.
Their large eyes help them operate in almost complete darkness, while their large tooth-filled mouths enable them to eat a wide variety of prey.
Much ugly fish use lures to draw their prey towards them as they lack the musculature to engage in a high-speed pursuit.
Not all these fish are quite as revolting as they initially seem. The blobfish, for example, looks much like an ordinary fish when in its natural habitat.
It’s only when you remove the pressure of 6,000 feet of water that they start to collapse into a gelatinous blob.
There’s no room for vanity when you live in the dark, deep ocean; it’s all about survival, which all these ugly fish are surprisingly good at.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so what you perceive as ugly, the next person might see it as beautiful.
It’s difficult to imagine anyone falling for the physical appeal of a blobfish or goblin shark, but we can all be impressed at their ability to survive.
The ugliest fish in the world only goes to prove how much diversity there is out there, and how different fish have developed such a range of anatomical traits to maximize their hunting abilities and make the most of life in the deep ocean.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.