Remember last week when Erick Erickson said on Fox News that biology shows us how male dominance and female submission allow for complementary relationships in the natural world? I don’t think he asked the female spotted hyena for her opinion.
Almost every form of animal behavior tends to be anthropomorphized in one way or another, particularly when it is discussed outside of scientific circles. While relating the world around us to our own experiences may help us identify with the ways in which animals interact, it rarely helps us understand the true nature of their behavior to the extent that we might expect. Ironically, the animal behaviors that seem most similar to those of humans could very well be the ones most misunderstood when we try to draw connections between the two. This leaves scientists in a difficult position when we try to communicate our findings to the general public: On one hand, it can be very effective to talk about animals as if they are people, in order to both stir up interest and to get potentially difficult concepts across to those who aren’t familiar with scientific jargon. But…
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Every animal needs energy to live, and they usually get it by ingesting other living things. We’ve all seen videos of predators hunting down and killing their favorite prey, or docile herbivores munching on grass, leaves, or berries. But one group of animals has evolved a strategy to harness energy that’s a bit more complex and far more clever than simply finding something and eating it. Sacoglossan sea slugs are close relatives of the more colorful and better-known group of slugs called nudibranchs.
Nudibranchs are carnivorous – they prey on sponges, cnidarians, bryozoans, and even cannibalize other members of their own species. Sacoglossans, on the other hand, are more like their hippie vegan cousins. They feed on green algae using a specialized tooth-like feeding structure common to all snails and slugs called a radula. A sacoglossan sea slug uses its radula to pierce cell walls, allowing it to suck out all those sweet, sweet algal juices.
Okay, so some sea slugs are vegan, but what’s so clever about that? Continue reading