Saturday, 17 May 2014

Elysia the Solar-powered Sea Slug

Recently there was a movie called Elysium, which is rather similar to Elysia so I looked the word up to see if there was a connection. Elysium fields were the ancient Greek version of heaven.  Maybe Elysia, the genus name of the mangrove sea slug is derived from the legendary fields of Elysium which more or less grew themselves.  Elysia sp. were believed to carry their bountiful fields with them in the form of chloroplasts that they have extracted from algae.  The released chloroplasts colour the sea slugs deep green and have long been believed to feed the sea slug for as long as a year using solar power.  That idea is unfortunately under challenge and some species have been found not to be solar powered but others are still under the microscope.

Elysia bangtawensis

Elysia bangtawaensis or mangrove-leaf sea slug is our local species although is is found from the Queensland border to Thailand and even India.  The species was only named in 1998 after a Thai village that resisted clearing of mangroves for aquaculture.  It was then discovered at Coolangatta by another consultant during impact assessment for a road project.  Soon after I found some at Half Moon Bay, near Smithfield, Cairns - I was the second person to find the species here and reported the find to the sea slug forum.  In the photo below there is a Telescopium snail for scale.  Elysia are about 4 cm long.

This time, I found the mangrove sea slugs in a Ceriops forest.  Ceriops or yellow spurred mangrove inhabits the dry intertidal areas near salt pans and is not the place one would expect to find sea slugs.  Ceriops forests are rather unexpected places for most Australians.

Elysia were in very shallow pools on the floor of the forest.  Not every part of the forest had Elysia, they are fairly scarce and I had not seen any for years.  I am not sure if they are always present or if they come and go.  I am sure that they can be very hard to find.  They do not seem to chase sun spots which I would have expected them to do if they were solar powered.


  1. Thanks, Andrew. Just saw the North American version on a facebook post so was curious if we had anything like it on this side of the pond. And there, by golly, by gosh, was your article. :-)

  2. Hello Andrew i wondered what books you use to id your crabs as I am having a lot of trouble . Also twice now in 20 years i have seen a crab that a rarely see climb up trees and gather together in great numbers, do some crabs lay eggs up trees? Thank you

  3. Hi David, there are no books on crabs. Take photos of any interesting crabs that you see as I would like to know about them too. Feel free to reference this site or borrow content from it. I have been busy for a while so sorry for the late reply.