As the old saying goes, “never judge a book by its cover”. And the wolffish is living proof of that statement.
Despite their creepy-looking faces and menacing teeth that often protrude out of their faces, Atlantic wolffish aren’t actually dangerous and don’t pose a threat to humans.
Of course, we didn’t always know that – hence the name “wolf” fish. The first fisherman or diver who got a load of that face probably jumped back a couple of feet and ran away. After all, it does have a sort of grouchy wolf-like face and even color.
But now we know better. Wolffish are actually quite safe animals and have a reputation for being comparatively outgoing in the fish world and even cuddle up to divers sometimes.
As it turns out, those big scary teeth are actually used for shoveling around the ocean floor for food and digging up food. Once food is found, like hard-shelled crabs or clams, those teeth are used to crack them open.
Wolffish live on both the west and east coasts of the Atlantic Ocean, and can often be found in 2,000 feet under water in caves and crevices.
One possible explanation for their friendly behavior is that they mate in a similar way as mammals. Unlike most fish which have a non-intimate mating ritual of having the female fish lays eggs first and then having male fish externally fertilize them via “spraying”, wolffish actually choose their mate and work one-on-one as the male wolffish internally fertilizes the female’s eggs. This kind of bonding may have unlocked a more emotional part of their brains that allows them to be more social with human visitors.
Their friendly nature isn’t the only surprise they have up their fins – the bodies of wolffish also produce antifreeze to keep their blood flowing in those cold water temperatures that can get as low as 12 °Fahrenheit (−11 °Celsius).
The Atlantic Wolffish is related to the Pacific Wolf Eel – which looks very similar except it has an even longer body and is even friendlier. Check it out in the video below: