Beach-goer Lucinda Fry found the sea creature, known as the blue dragon, on Australia’s Gold Coast last week.
Fly caught the blue dragon on tape – while the sea creature was most likely on the hunt for food – and posted the video on the Facebook page of the Gold Coast Bulletin. Thanks to the video (and Fry of course), people were able to take a close-up look at the magnificent sea creature.
Blue dragon, which biologists call Glaucus atlanticus, is a species of small, blue nudibranch sea slug in the family Glaucidae. Most nudibranches – which are soft-bodied, marine creatures that shed their shells after their larval stage – swim near the ocean floor, but the blue dragon prefers staying closer to the surface, while floating upside-down. The sea slug can be found in tropical and temperate oceans.
Some blue dragons end up washed ashore by the ocean’s currents. However, most of the time the currents bring the blue dragons closer to their favourite food: the Portuguese man o’ war. This creature is a stinging venomous marine cnidarian that lives off the east coast of Australia.
The Portuguese man o’ war population swims toward the Gold Coast at this time of year and the blue dragons follow them. Although the Portuguese man o’ war, also known as blue bottle, has a painful sting that does not stop blue dragon to feed on them.
The blue dragons have developed an interesting tactic when it comes to feeding on the cnidarians that also helps them out later on. They absorb the Portuguese man o’ war’s sting and then use the venom – that is absorbed into their tissue – to protect themselves from their own predators.
Kylie Pitt, a marine invertebrates expert at Griffith University said that, although he himself had never been stung by a blue dragon, he does not recommend people to pick the sea slung up, because it may sting them and the sting is quite painful.
The blue dragon does not digest the stinging cells of the Portuguese man o’ war. Instead, it stores them in the cerata – anatomical structures found externally in nudibranch sea slugs. Ceras, the singular from for cerata, comes from Greek and it means ‘horn’.
Since all the toxins are absorbed in the cerata, the slug that is usually one centimetre long, has a more powerful sting than larger prey that may have 30-foot long (9.14 metres) tentacles on average, according to Mr. Pitt.
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