Mechanisms of gill-clogging by hagfish slime

Luke Taylor, Gaurav Chaudhary, Gaurav Jain, Andrew Lowe, Andre Hupe, Atsuko Negishi, Yu Zeng, Randy H. Ewoldt, Douglas S. Fudge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hagfishes defend themselves from gill-breathing predators by producing large volumes of fibrous slime when attacked. The slime's effectiveness comes from its ability to clog predators' gills, but the mechanisms by which hagfish slime clogs are uncertain, especially given its remarkably dilute concentration of solids. We quantified the clogging performance of hagfish slime over a range of concentrations, measured the contributions of its mucous and thread components, and measured the effect of turbulent mixing on clogging. To assess the porous structure of hagfish slime, we used a custom device to measure its Darcy permeability. We show that hagfish slime clogs at extremely dilute concentrations like those found in native hagfish slime and displays clogging performance that is superior to three thickening agents. We report an extremely low Darcy permeability for hagfish slime, and an effective pore size of 10-300 nm. We also show that the mucous and thread components play distinct yet crucial roles, with mucus being responsible for effective clogging and low permeability and the threads imparting mechanical strength and retaining clogging function over time. Our results provide new insights into the mechanisms by which hagfish slime clogs gills and may inspire the development of ultra-soft materials with novel properties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220774
JournalJournal of the Royal Society Interface
Issue number200
StatePublished - 2023


  • Darcy permeability
  • animal defence
  • mucus
  • protein threads

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials


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