Can there be anything more beautiful?
The most exquisitely coloured creatures on Earth, which are they? Ask someone and you will hear parakeets mentioned, birds-of-paradise, certain butterflies perhaps, or even coral reef fishes. But slugs? Just to mention that word causes some people to cringe. Slugs and beautiful, that doesn’t seem to match at all and most people associate these animals with the pest that is nibbling at their lettuces or cabbages in their vegetable gardens at night or after the rain.
Yet, there are in zoological circles quite a few people who would argue the prize for the most wonderfully coloured creatures must go to the naked sea-slugs, members of the phylum “Mollusca”, to which also snails with shells, clams, squid and octopus (and, of course, also the not so beautiful black garden slugs) belong. Not necessarily the large Aplysioidea sea-slugs, known as sea-hares, but some of the smaller sea-slugs, no bigger than a few centimetres, are the ones that are so exquisitely coloured, so bizarrely shaped, and so gracefully and seemingly effortlessly moving around on their slimy foot amongst seaweed and coral that one can be forgiven to think they are not from this world.
Those pastel hues, the aesthetically pleasing multicoloured dots, stripes and iridescent patches, white, green, or orange-tipped fleshy protuberances, the soft “hair” or “fur” (which in reality are gills) – this almost unreal composition and harmony of colours and shapes has amazed as well as puzzled generations of zoologists and enticed underwater photographers to take their finest shots. The outer-worldly appearance of some of these slugs to the human observer is hard to describe.
The eyes of these soft, “living gems” are far too crude to make any use of this eloquence and the only explanation is that somehow this visual splendour aids the naked sea-slugs (for they never possess a shell) in their survival against predators. Indeed, as divers would be able to testify, live naked sea-slugs climbing in seaweed or amongst coral are extremely hard to spot, because their colour pattern “breaks up” the shape of the animal and seemingly “dissolves” its outline. Camouflage can be beautiful.
In addition, what we see as vivid colours of orange, pink, red, and purple is far less conspicuous in several metres of water below the surface, where blue-greenish lights dominate and longer radiation (and some UV) has been filtered out. Since these squashy soft “jewels” of the sea are rather shy and not even show off with their exquisite beauty, I would not hesitate for a second to award them the title “Most beautiful animals on Earth”!
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2017.
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