Egg-sucking sea slug from Florida's Cedar Key named after Muppets creator Jim Henson

phys.org | 3/12/2019 | Staff
normanorma (Posted by) Level 4
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Feet from the raw bars and sherbet-colored condominiums of Florida's Cedar Key, researchers discovered a new species of egg-sucking sea slug, a rare outlier in a group famous for being ultra-vegetarians.

Named Olea hensoni in honor of Muppets creator Jim Henson, the slug belongs to the sacoglossans, a group of more than 300 species that are such enthusiastic eaters of plants that many of them turn green and some resemble leaves. A few species, nicknamed "solar-powered slugs," have even developed the ability to keep algae alive inside their bodies to photosynthesize their food for them, becoming a fusion of plant and animal.

O - Hensoni - Rogue - Species - Olea

But O. hensoni has gone rogue, joining two other sacoglossan species - Olea hansineensis from the northeast Pacific and Calliopaea bellula in the Mediterranean—that abandoned a diet of seaweed to prey on the eggs of their fellow slugs and snails.

"In the middle of this group of super-herbivores, there are a couple of species that have rebelled in 'The Hills Have Eyes' kind of way and have gone almost full-blown cannibal," said Patrick Krug, professor of biological sciences at California State University. "These are like the Venus fly traps of the slug world. They've switched from being harmless, friendly creatures to predators."

Cedar - Key - Waterfront - Wreckage - Hurricane

In 2017, Cedar Key's waterfront still bore wreckage from Hurricane Hermine when Gustav Paulay, Florida Museum curator of invertebrate zoology, slipped on divers boots and walked onto a sand flat exposed by the low tide. He was scouting for nudibranchs, worms, sea snails and crabs to show his students. Picking up a Jell-O-like egg mass, he spotted a sea slug about the size of a grain of rice inside.

"I assumed it was a well-known species," he said. "I know its relative from the northeast Pacific quite well, so I figured, 'Okay, good, we got an Olea' and put it in...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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