Nudibranchs are the fancier word for the common sea slug. Sea slugs are marine invertebrates that resemble the soft slimy slug. Though they may be pretty, we must put a warning label on them. For as pretty as they are, they are also incredibly dangerous. They produce toxins to ward of predators, or to make quick work of prey. They are also a form of sea snail, though they have an internal shell, so it looks as if they have no shell at all. On their backs they have a set of tentacle like appendages, along with their gills. Despite not seeming to have mouths, they, like all gastropods, have a set of sharp teeth called radulas. They sense using a pair of tentacle appendages on their head, like antennae, with an eye on each end.
They come in various shapes, colors, sizes and personalities
Scientists have discovered something phenomenal with the sea slug. We already knew they were toxic creatures, using their bright colors to signalize to their predators they are indeed dangerous to eat. Recently, however, they have gone the next step. They had managed to eat toxins. They are starting to consume a compound toxin called Latrunculin A. Pretty freaky, huh? The toxin itself works wonders for the slug when killing prey. “The smallest amount of it killed brine shrimp.” Says Dr. Karen Cheney of UQ’s school of Biological Sciences.
Sea slugs are actually more intelligent then we make them out to be. “The sea slug brain has some of the complexity of higher organisms, yet has large neurons that make it possible to record a substantial amount of what is happening in the brain during movement.” Says Dr. Mark Humphires of Medical Research Council at Manchester. Their brains are being used to study neurons and further complexity of the brain.
One of the most exciting projects of all, though, is lead by Angel A. Valdes. An associate professor in the Department of Biological sciences. He believes that the sea slug, could possibly cure one of our most devastating diseases, cancer. Just last summer, he took a trip to Panama to conduct a two week student workshop at the Smithsonian Tropical Research institute.
I think sea slugs could play a bigger role in humanity’s survival than we give it credit for, who knows what kind of secrets it still has yet to share.
Though yet I still have some questions unanswered:
- Just how dangerous are sea slug tentacles to humans?
- If stung enough, could it kill us?
- Where was the sea slug first discovered, and by whom?