Elysia crispata (pictured here) is often found sunbathing on Caribbean reefs where it can survive for more than a month without eating. This is due to their remarkable ability to store chloroplasts as they ingest green algae. The chloroplasts are stored in their digestive epithelium and can provide nutrients from photosynthesis, as well as camouflage. “Kleptoplasty,” or “stolen plastids” is the term for the slugs’ remarkable ability. This ability is also found in some marine protists including foraminifera, dinoflagellates and ciliates; however, sacoglossans are the only metazoans to exhibit various levels of kleptoplasty, and thus represent a powerful model system for studying the evolution of endosymbiosis.
The pictured specimen is around 1.5 centimeters long, was collected in the Bahamas, and was photographed through a stereomicroscope using a digital camera.
Patrick J. Krug, PhD, Dept. Biological Sciences, Cal State University, Los Angeles, CA.