Myxine limosa is a burrowing species of hagfish that occurs in the western North Atlantic in areas with muddy substrate and at depths generally greater than 100 meters. Burrowing of M. limosa has been observed from submersibles, but little is known about the behavior of these animals within the substrate or the biomechanical mechanisms involved. Here, we investigated burrowing in M. limosa by observing individuals as they burrowed through transparent gelatin. A photoelastic setup using crossed polarizers allowed us to visualize stress development in the gelatin as the hagfish moved through it. We found that M. limosa created U-shaped burrows in gelatin using a stereotyped, two-phase burrowing behavior. In the first (‘thrash’) phase, hagfish drove their head and their anterior body into the substrate using vigorous sinusoidal swimming movements, with their head moving side-to-side. In the second (‘wriggle’) phase, swimming movements ceased, with propulsion coming exclusively from the anterior, submerged portion of body. The wriggle phase involved side-to-side head movements and movements of the submerged part of the body that resembled the internal concertina strategy used by caecilians and uropeltid snakes. The entire burrowing process took on average 7.6 min to complete and ended with the hagfish's head protruding from the substrate and the rest of its body generally concealed. Understanding the burrowing activities of hagfishes could lead to improved understanding of sediment turnover in marine benthic habitats, new insights into the reproductive behavior of hagfishes, or even inspiration for the design of burrowing robots.

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