Species of the Week: Spotted Sea Hare

Walking down the beach the other day I stepped on something slimy and soft, and immediately jumped back completely grossed out by the icky feeling of yuck on the sole of my foot, which was covered in purple liquid.  I immediately rinsed it off and then looked back for the cause of such a disgusting episode and found a rather large sea slug, about as big as my hand.  Even though it was beached and had been stepped on, it still seemed to be moving, so I found a stick and pushed it back in the water before continuing with my walk.

I didn’t get very far. There were dozens all over the beach, from just over an inch to the six inch monster I accidentally squashed.  Later when I went for a swim I found hundreds of not too far from the shore.

I had never seen these creatures before, so I decided to look them up. It turns out they are called Sea Hares, and this particular variety is the Spotted (Aplysia dactylomela).  They seem to be fairly common and found worldwide, and feed on algae, which is good, because we have way too much algae.   But strangely enough the references I checked all claimed them to be nocturnal animals- which may account for why I’d never seen them before.

This day however they were out in abundance- and partying.  They are hermaphrodites, and while mating they act as both male and female, sometimes forming chains of several individuals.

Sadly, when I went back with the camera the next day, most had died. But the good news is, they are harmless and the purple discharge which briefly graced my foot is harmless, sort of like squid ink.

Oh and apparently they are also commonly used in neurological research, because of a giant abdominal neuron which is similar to that of vertebrates. Cool.

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