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Sunday, October 24, 2021

 The Mesmerizing Blue Dragon: The Miniature Sea Slug Wonder

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Everybody would love to live in a world of dragons, a world of magic and mystery, and faith. In reality, they don’t come more beautiful than the blue dragon. Also known as the blue glaucus, blue angel, or the sea swallow, the Glaucus atlanticus is a Nudibranch or a sea slug

They are groups of marine mollusks that shed their shell after their larval stage. The brightly colored creature can be found throughout the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Ocean, in both tropical and temperate waters.

This ornamental creature is a living work of art. The blue dragon rarely grows over 3 centimeters (1.18 inches) and drifts on its back with the help of a bubble in its stomach that helps it stay afloat. This exposes its brightly colorful body to airborne predators. But its ocean blue hues protect it from being easily detected from the air. 

Read: Meet ‘Leaf Sheep’: Sea Slugs Who Sheepishly Photosynthesize For Sustainability

The gray and silver colors at the underside hide it from predators underwater. 

Blue Dragons Are Unlike Any Other Sea Creatures

Despite their tiny size, the blue dragons prey on creatures much bigger in size. An identical row of serrated teeth in the blue dragon’s jaw helps them. The jaw is made from chitin, the same hard substance that forms the outer shell of crabs and ants.

The blue dragon has a mean sting that protects it when it is detected despite its camouflage. The nematocysts, the stinging organs are for attaching to its prey which includes Portuguese man o’ wars, and the venomous siphonophores. The sting is concentrated and released when touched and packs a powerful punch and is even more potent than the hydrozoan man o’ war.

The blue dragon is not solitary and groups of the creatures float close to siphonophores, a blue-tinted class of marine organisms, that they eat. The grouped formation has given these the name the ‘blue fleet.’ These mass formations help both in mating and feeding but also drives them ashore due to the increased surface area.

To defend themselves from the waves and winds which push them ashore, the blue dragons curl into tight balls. The stranded blue dragon is a danger even after death, as their poison remains potent. People who step on them, or pick them up, get fiercely stung in the process.

The Blue Dragons Are To Be Seen From A Distance

While the breathtaking beauty of the blue dragon might tempt people to keep them in an aquarium, their poison deters even skilled aquarium keepers. It is also impossible to get food for these creatures in pet stores.

blue dragon

The blue dragons are hermaphrodites, having both female and male reproductive organs. The blue dragons are careful to avoid being stung by their partner and engage with elongated curved penises when they mate. They lay eggs in long strings of around 20 each which they attach to floating objects like driftwood, or on the carcass of the blue dragon’s prey.

Blue dragons have in recent years begun to turn up in places where they weren’t noticed before. Warming oceans are suspected to be the reason along with an increase in storms. This causes them to float far away to regions where they were not present before.

They have been caught in fishing nets in the Bay of California, 93 miles to the north of where they are normally confined. They have even been spotted off the shores of Taiwan. Beachgoers were surprised to spot them on the Texan island of South Padre in 2020. They also have been seen in Cape Town in South Africa in November of the same year.

Its preying habits are unique. While attacking their preferred prey, the Portuguese man o’ war, the blue dragon stores the stinging nematocysts created by their prey’s long, venomous tentacles that reach lengths over 30 feet long. These stinging cells get stored and kept in a concentrated form and released whenever the blue dragon is attacked or threatened. This makes their poison much more potent than their source, the Portuguese man o’ war.

Read: Lumpsuckers: This Invaluable Fish Could Save The Salmon From The Skin Lice

But a lot remains to be known about these interesting marine invertebrates, especially their conservation status given their pelagic lifestyle in the open waters of the oceans.




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