Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Beneficial self-harming: Sea slugs protect themselves by self-cutting

Date:January 4, 2016
Source:Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB)

In the seagrass beds of the eastern Pacific Ocean, a strange game of cat and mouse unfolds. The otherworldly, jellyfish-like hooded sea slug, Melibe leonina, sits on a blade of eelgrass and unfurls its tentacled oral hood. It sucks in a small planktonic shrimp, closing its oral hood like a Venus flytrap and propelling the shrimp down its digestive tract.

Unbeknownst to the sea slug, a crab approaches and reaches out a wicked claw to grab one of the many plate-like appendages running along the slug's back. A snap of a claw and the plate comes free -- not torn away by the crab, but rather cut free by the sea slug itself, as it swims away completely unscathed.

This is a scenario studied by University of Victoria developmental biologist Louise Page, who has been fascinated by this process of self-cutting, or autotomy, in the hooded sea slug ever since she was a master's student. A colleague was culturing these odd creatures at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Marine Laboratory, and Page was so taken with their unique anatomy and behaviors, studying them became a focus of her career.

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