Monday, January 08, 2007

Animal of the Week January 8, 2007 -- The slug it's ok to love

Belated Happy New Year,

Having pelted you with fowls in the extreme before Christmas, I made the sole new year's resolution of not touching any birds for the first few weeks of 2007, I am sure you can imagine how difficult that is going to be for me.

I must thank Doug for this week's animal of the week, he drew it to my attention some weeks back and, while I don't take requests, it is such a beautiful and crazy thing, that I really have no choice. When people ask me "What's your favourite animal?", I tend to reply "I like all the animals equally, except slugs, I don't really like slugs" (I am sure this would be to the horror of my niece, who, to the dismay of her mother, is well into slugs). But then, perhaps I should reconsider in the light of this week's animal, Glaucus atlanticus (blue sea slug).

This amazing looking creature isn't actually that closely related to land slugs, although it is a gastropod mollusc (like slugs, snails, limpits, that sort of thing) which is essentially a layer of organs sat atop one big long foot. Although in the case of the blue sea slug, the organs are not above the foot but below it, for this topsy turvy nudibranch floats upside down at the surface of the oceans with its beautifully patterned foot pointing to the sky. And what does this 4 cm long sci-fi-alike do there? Drifts around gobbling up Portuguese man-of-wars (definitely not jellyfish), one of the most stingy creatures in the sea.

While most animals are put off tackling Portuguese man-of-wars by their thirty foot long tentacles covered in some of the most vicious stings in the animal kingdom, blue sea slugs are immune to these defences and, in fact, assimilate the most potent stings into a special sack. Unwary beachgoers who happen upon one of these and choose to fiddle with it may find themselves being stung worse than if they rubbed a Portuguese man-of-war on themselves, because the slugs take on only the strongest stings.

Crikey blimey governors, I hope you agree that the upside down, floating, stinging, beast eating blue sea slug, is a most worthy first animal of the week for 2007.

Number of legs: 0
Celebrity a-like: A smurf 40
Top speed: 4 mph
Tenacity: 7
Likelihood of hurting James Blunt: 40%
Aesthetically pleasing: 10
Violence: 2
Can be kept on a roof terrace: 1
Religiousity: 5
Special skill: Stinging 80


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