Put down your salad tongs! This creature doesn’t belong in your vegetable medley!
This week, we asked Felicia our Marine Camp Manager what her favorite marine creature is, and she gave us a perfect vegetarian answer: The lettuce sea slug!
The lettuce sea slug, Elysia crispate, has huge variability in color. It can be found in blue, red, green, tan and a blend of colors. These beautifully shaped slugs have fleshy protrusions resembling that of curly lettuce – hence the name. These fleshy protrusions are an important part of the survival strategy of these creatures. What survival strategy you ask? This slug is one of few animals capable of photosynthesis (which is why Felicia says, “It’s my favorite!”)
What? Wait! An animal that photosynthesizes?! Let us recap another one of our blog post (click here) about symbiosis.
Symbiosis is the relationship between two different living organisms where one lives on the other and one or both depends upon the other. We talked about parasitism, like fleas; commensalism, like hitchhiking barnacles on whales; and mutualism, like the spotted jelly and algae. The lettuce sea slug symbiosis relationship is called Kleptoplasty.
That word might sound familiar – you may have heard someone who steals a lot referred to as a “kleptomaniac.” Kleptoplasty is derived from the Greek work kleptes meaning “thief.” These little slugs are fancy-looking burglars! While feeding on algae, they will digest almost all of the plant except for the chloroplasts. Chloroplasts are found within the cells of the algae and are responsible for harnessing light during the photosynthesis process. These sea slugs are then able to spread the chloroplast throughout the surface of the tissues on their body and are able to produce their own sugar to feed. Now that’s what we call solar power!
Edited by KC O’Shea
Image ID: reef2588, NOAA’s Coral Kingdom Collection
Location: Florida, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary
Photographer: Paige Gill
Credit: Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary