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Anglerfish: the Black Devil of the Deep
by E. M. Alexander

Picture Book Winner, Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Literature

Picture Book Category Winner 2015 Katherine Paterson Prize

Far, far below the ocean’s surface, where no trace of light can be seen, the deep sea Anglerfish makes her home.

She glides slowly through the dark water. Always on the hunt, her jaw protrudes, baring razor-sharp teeth. She is a fearsome creature. She is the Black Devil of the Deep.

Unlike some of her cousin species like the monkfish, the goosefish, or the frogfish that live in more shallow water (a mere 300 feet down), the Angler lives in water so deep, it is always as black as midnight.

Although she doesn’t remember it, the Anglerfish once lived in the upper mesopelagic zone, known as the twilight zone, where the last traces of sunlight could still penetrate the water. In the scant light a thousand meters below the surface, creatures adapt to the darkness with large eyes.

Anglerfish began her life as a tiny egg that was released far below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, and floated gently to the surface. As a baby fish, or fry, she feasted on plankton. As she grew into adulthood, she began her descent into the bathypelagic zone, 1,000 to 4,000 meters below the surface.

In the depths of the blackest water, the Anglerfish makes her own light. A tiny bioluminescent lure sprouts forth from a fin that grows between her eyes. “Bioluminescent” is a Latin word that means “living light.” Creatures with bioluminescent adaptations usually live in places where it is very, very dark. They might use their light as a signal, to scare away predators, or to illuminate prey. Only the female Anglerfish has this ability.

The Anglerfish needs her light to survive. She uses the glowing orb as bait, dangling it in front of her mouth like her very own fishing pole. Buried in the mud and sand, she lies in wait for a fish, a shrimp, or maybe even a crab.

Sometimes the Anglerfish wiggles her lure to entice her prey. She hopes they will be deceived and think that the moving light is a tasty morsel of food. When a fish or crab comes close enough, her stomach descends and she extends her flexible jaw. She opens her large mouth and swallows her meal whole. The Anglerfish prefers fish and shrimp, but in the deep, dark depths she calls her home, she will eat whatever she can catch.

A fierce hunter, she has earned the name of Black Devil. Living in a world without sunlight, her dark brown or black skin is a clever camouflage that helps her blend right into her surroundings. The average Anglerfish is six inches, but some can grow as large as 35 inches long. With her large mouth filled with sharp, pointy teeth, the Anglerfish looks like a prehistoric creature. Her skin does not have scales, but it can be covered in warts or spines.

The Anglerfish has jagged teeth that work like a hinge, snapping back into place when she has trapped her prey. Any fish caught in the mouth of a Black Devil will find itself locked in her mouth like a prisoner in a cell.

The Black Devil of the Deep traps her mates as well. She is larger than the tiny male Anglerfish, who only averages two and half to six inches in length. Previously scientists mistook the male Anglerfish for a tiny parasite living under the female’s skin. Now they know that the male attaches to the female’s skin and becomes absorbed into her body.

Their union is a matter of survival. The tiny male, born without a digestive system, cannot survive alone. His sole purpose at birth is to use his heightened sense of smell to seek out a healthy female and attach to her by biting into her flesh. Once attached, his jaws are dissolved by enzymes and his blood fuses with hers.

The Anglerfish will always carry with her one or more males. As their bodies join, all that will be left of the male is his reproductive organs, which the female Angler will use to fertilize her eggs. When she is ready to reproduce, in the spring or early summer, the Anglerfish will lay more than a million eggs in a single spawning.

Her offspring will spend a brief time closer to the sea’s surface, just as she once did, before slowly sinking down for a life in the water’s dark depths.

Once there, her children might be caught by a fisherman seeking out the only edible part of her body—the tail. Or, perhaps they will be lucky enough to make their own homes—far, far below the ocean’s surface, where no trace of light can be seen, in the darkest, loneliest place in the sea.

~

Sources For ANGLERFISH: THE BLACK DEVIL OF THE DEEP

Ganeri, Anita. Creatures That Glow. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995.

National Geographic. 12 October 2015.  http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/fish/anglerfish/

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 5 October 2015. http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/light-distributed.html

 

 

Paddy Cats
by Helen Kampion

Honorable Mention, Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Literature

Special Mention 2015 Katherine Paterson Prize

Toshiko lived in a small village in Japan where the rice grew in rows as straight as chopsticks. Every day on her way to the rice paddies, Toshiko greeted the stray cats and scratched their backs.

Late one Monday afternoon, the sky grew black with feathers. A gigantic flock of birds swooped down and pecked at the rice.

Papa-san, what kind of birds are eating our rice?” asked Toshiko.

“I do not know, Little One,” answered Father. “But we must stop them, or all the villagers will starve. Tomorrow we must chase them away with kakashis, scarecrows.”

 

On Tuesday, Father, Toshiko, and the villagers marched to the rice paddies. The cats crouched in the shadows.

The villagers carried bamboo poles hung with rags, fish bones, and meat. They hammered the poles into the ground and set them on fire. Smelly smoke swirled in the air.

Toshiko held her nose.

The cats growled and scurried away.

All day long the villagers lit kakashis.

But the birds stayed and ate.

“It didn’t work, Papa-san,” said Toshiko. “The birds must think it smells like koh, incense.”

Hai, yes, my daughter, these birds find the scent sweet,” said Father. We must try again tomorrow.”

That evening at mealtime, Toshiko’s rice bowl was not filled to the rim.

 

On Wednesday, Father, Toshiko, and the villagers plodded to the rice paddies carrying drums. The cats huddled nearby.

The villagers placed the drums on either side of the paddies and beat them.

Boom! Boom!

The cats yowled and their tails bristled.

All day long the villagers banged the drums.

But the birds stayed and ate and ate.

“Oh no, Papa-san. The drums didn’t work either,” said Toshiko.

Hai, my daughter, these birds like the thunder of the drums,” said Father. “We must try again tomorrow.”

Papa-san, I have an idea,” said Toshiko, watching the cats chase a dragonfly.

“No, Little One, the problem is too big,” said Father. “And you are too small.”

That evening, Toshiko’s rice bowl was only half full.

And so was her stomach.

 

On Thursday, Father, Toshiko, and the villagers trudged to the rice paddies. The cats straggled behind. The villagers carried bamboo poles topped with fierce cloth dragons. They pounded the poles into the ground.

The dragons snapped from side to side in the wind.

The cats arched their backs and hissed.

All day long the villagers added dragon poles.

But the birds stayed and ate and ate and ate.

Papa-san, these birds aren’t afraid of the mighty dragons,” said Toshiko.

Hai, my daughter, these birds have made friends of the dragons,” said Father.

“What will our village do now?” asked Toshiko.

“I do not know,” said Father. “If we cannot stop these birds, we will have nothing to eat and nothing to trade for fish or firewood.”

That evening, Toshiko’s rice bowl held only enough to fill a teacup.

And her empty stomach rumbled like an earthquake.

Papa-san, I can stop these birds from feasting,” said Toshiko.

“Little One, what can you do?” asked Father.

“I have an idea,” answered Toshiko.

“An idea? You are just a child.”

Hai, Papa-san, but it’s a very good idea.”

 

On Friday morning, every family carried a narrow wooden plank to the paddies. Toshiko showed them how to lay the planks between the rows of rice. Then she scattered scraps of fish on the wood. Toshiko grabbed the smelliest chunk.

“Wait here,” she said to the villagers, and darted down the road.

After a short while Toshiko reappeared with the stray cats. She walked backwards into the paddies, dangling the stinky fish in front of the cats. They followed her onto the planks and gobbled up the fish pieces. The startled birds screeched and took flight.

After eating, the cats strolled away and the birds returned.

Over the next two days, Toshiko fed the cats at different times. Each time, the cats scared away the birds. But when the cats disappeared, the birds returned.

 

On Monday morning, the cats waited for her.

Ohayō gozaimasu, good morning,” said Toshiko, feeding the cats. “Today you must stay in the paddies all day and keep the birds away.”

At the end of the day, Father and Toshiko checked the rice paddies. Toshiko saw only contented cats on the planks, and a few black feathers.

Papa-san, there are no birds!”

Hai, my daughter, your cats have saved our village,” said Father. “You may be small, but your ideas are big. Domo arigatō gozaimasu, thank you very much.”

Father bowed to Toshiko and to her paddy cats.

That evening, while the village celebrated, Toshiko filled two bowls of rice to the brim. A small bowl for herself, and a big one for her paddy cats.

 

~

Author’s Notes

For more than 2,000 years, rice has been an important part of Japanese culture. Not only used as a food source, for centuries rice was used as currency for paying taxes and high-ranking government workers, and as an indicator of one’s wealth.

Rice is such a staple of the Japanese diet that the word for meal and cooked rice are the same, gohan. The Japanese added a prefix to gohan to indicate their daily meals: breakfast, asa-gohan; lunch, hiru-gohan; and dinner, ban-gohan.

The most common way to grow rice is in water. It is cultivated by first soaking rice seeds in water and planting them in seedbeds. While the seeds are growing, the farmers plow the paddy to prepare the soil. After the seeds have germinated (sprouted), the seedlings are transferred from the seedbeds to the water-filled paddy. They are planted about two inches apart in neat rows by a machine or by hand. The plantings take place anywhere from the end of April to late June, depending on the region. The rice is harvested in the fall.

As with most crops, the farmers must deal with pests and predators. For centuries, the Japanese used scarecrows to frighten away birds in the rice paddies. The first type of scarecrow consisted of bamboo poles hung with rags, fish bones, and meat. The farmers would light them on fire and the smell would drive away birds and other animals. Because the smell was so bad, they called them kakashi, which means something stinky. Eventually, the farmers made scarecrows in the image of people, using reeds and placing straw hats on their heads. Sometimes farmers added bows and arrows to make the scarecrows appear more fierce. Even though they didn’t set these scarecrows on fire and the reeds didn’t stink, they kept the same name.