When is a hare really a slug?

Some of the prettiest mysteries we have on the trip are the sea hares.

They’re a mystery because no one here is a sea hare expert, and Mandy can’t find any of them in the books we have (and I think they are very pretty!). So, we can’t put names to them, or work out whether perhaps they don’t yet have a name and are a new species. Now that would be very exciting!

Sea hares, or sea slugs, are related to slugs and snails, although they lost their shells a long time ago. They get the name ‘hare’ not because they are fast and good at jumping, but because like hares and rabbits they are constantly munching their way through small plants that grow on all the rocks. Some of them are really well camouflaged and look just like the rocks they are living on.

Sea hares are related to slugs and snails but they lost their shells a long time ago

Sea hares are related to slugs and snails but they lost their shells a long time ago

Some of the sea hares are very brightly coloured – they probably protect themselves with horrible tasting chemical secretions and they are advertising this fact: ‘don’t eat me, because I taste nasty!’

Sea hares get their name because like hares and rabbits they are constantly munching on small plants

Sea hares get their name because like hares and rabbits they are constantly munching on small plants

Most of the ones we have found have been the size of the palm of my hand, about 7 centimetres long, but today Mandy found an absolute whopper, the size of a rugby ball.

What a whopper: massive sea hare (or slug) with mollusc expert Mandy

What a whopper: massive sea hare (or slug) with mollusc expert Mandy

Because it has no backbone and no protective shell it went all floppy while Mandy was holding it for the photo, so here’s another photo to give you a better sense of its shape. It looks like a misshaped ball.

Its head is at the right side of this photo, and you can just make out its sensory tentacles that it uses to find its way around. It moves along on a strong muscular foot, just like a common garden snail.

A closer look at the massive sea hare

A closer look at the massive sea hare

And here’s the prettiest thing we’ve found – it’s a cousin of the sea hares, called a nudibranch. The gills that it breathes through are the purple feathery crown you can see near the top of the photo. I reckon it’s a real sweetie!

The sea hare's pretty cousin

The sea hare's pretty cousin: the nudibranch's gills are the purple feathery crown you can see near the top of the photo

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5 Responses to “When is a hare really a slug?”

  1. ria

    I love nudibranch, i guess the hare is important in the ecology of the ocean so im going to love them too. Thanks for sharing :)

    Reply
  2. Bill Rudman

    Hi Mandy
    Nice finds.
    The slug in your top photo is a sea hare Dolabrifera brazieri found in southeastern Australia and nthn New Zealand

    I am afraid the second ‘slug’ has tricked you. It is a slug-like snail Lamellaria australis [Fam: Velutinidae]

    The large one you are holding is definitely a sea hare It is called Aplysia extraordinaria in eastern Australia and is probably the same as the western Australian Aplysia gigantea. It can swim by flapping its large parapodia. In western Australia it has been found guilty of poisoning dogs out on their morning walks.

    Have a look in the Sea Slug Forum
    http://www.seaslugforum.net/aplyextr.htm
    http://www.seaslugforum.net/aplygiga.htm
    http://www.seaslugforum.net/lamellar.htm

    Bon Voyage
    Bill

    Reply
    • Melanie

      Hi Bill, thanks so much for that information – I have passed it back to Mandy and the team on the boat. It’s great to have an expert pair of outside eyes as on the boat they are only able to use reference texts that they have taken with them. They can’t use the internet as they would quickly clock up debt the size of a small country’s GDP!
      They have all had some time on land over the last 24 hours to give themselves some recovery from all the diving but they should be back at it tomorrow finding more slugs … or perhaps more snails.

      Reply
    • Melanie

      A message from the Mandy on the Braveheart:
      Hi Bill, thanks so much for those identifications. I’m glad you think they are good finds. Do you have any thoughts on the white and red one with the yellow around the body and foot? Aside from your critters we have collected 6 octopuses so far, belonging to two species. Very exciting!

      Reply

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