Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

The Secret Lives Of Sea Slugs

Date:
May 3, 2006
Source:
Marine Biological Laboratory
Summary:
It turns out that the sea slug isn't really that sluggish after all. So says the first broad field study of this charismatic orange creature's behavior in the wild, which was just published in the April 2006 issue of The Biological Bulletin. The new research is significant because the sea slug known as Tritonia diomedea, a nudibranch mollusc species found in the shallow northeast Pacific, is important in laboratory studies of the how the brain controls behavior, a field known as neuroethology.

The nudibranch gastropod Tritonia diomedea.
Credit: Photo Jim Murray / Courtesy of University of Washington

It turns out that the sea slug isn't really that sluggish after all. So says the first broad field study of this charismatic orange creature's behavior in the wild, which was just published in the April 2006 issue of The Biological Bulletin.

Related Articles


The new research is significant because the sea slug known as Tritonia diomedea, a nudibranch mollusc species found in the shallow northeast Pacific, is important in laboratory studies of the how the brain controls behavior, a field known as neuroethology.

Biologists Russell Wyeth and Dennis Willows, of University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories, launched the study to help provide missing information on this important research animal.

"Tritonia is one of the testing grounds for a lot of ideas for how nervous systems work," says Wyeth. "Field work with this organism is helpful because it gives you a good idea of how to set things up in the lab."

Observations of the slug's natural behaviors and the sensory cues that trigger them also add exciting new context for scientists studying them under experimental conditions and provide information that cannot be obtained in laboratories.

The study sheds light on the sea slug's navigation, feeding, mating, and egg-laying behavior, and confirms that many of this creature's behaviors in the wild are similar to published descriptions of laboratory behavior. The navigational observations are among the study's most exciting findings, not only because they are new to science, but also because they suggest that sea slugs don't just inch randomly around the sea.

In fact, they respond to odors and other sensory cues by initiating beneficial navigational behaviors, including escaping from predators by swimming up into water currents that hurl them (un-sluggishly) end over end downstream and away from harm, as well as crawling aggressively (for slugs) upstream to breed and feed. The observations also correlated with earlier studies suggesting that sea slugs flatten out their bodies to reduce drag when they encounter strong water currents, a behavior that helps them avoid being swept away.

At field sites near Vargas Island, British Columbia, and in southern Puget Sound, Wyeth, Willows, and their colleagues used SCUBA and time-lapse videos made with surveillance cameras like those used to catch shoplifters to observe the slugs' secret lives, then described certain behaviors and their relationships to sensory cues.

The goal of neuroethologists who study sea slugs in the laboratory is to link specific behaviors to their underlying neural controls. Information on behaviors and sensory cues that influence them is essential to the study of sensory systems, central processing, and motor systems, the basic neural elements that control behavior in all animals.

The sea slug has become a favored research model in this research arena over the past 40 years. "It's nature's gift to neurobiologists," says Wyeth. "It has a relatively small number of large, color-coded nerve cells that always appear in the same place in a relatively simple nervous system that controls behaviors that are easy to study under conditions of neurophysiological experimentation."

The observations that sea slugs navigate with respect to water flow and direction based on odor and other cues will inspire further studies of this behavior and aid scientists studying the nerve cells involved in navigation, an important problem every animal faces.

"Once you know what a behavior is, you have a starting point to see how the brain is actually controlling it," Wyeth says.

Published since 1897 by the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, The Biological Bulletin is one of America's oldest, peer-reviewed scientific journals. It publishes outstanding experimental research on the full range of biological topics and organisms, from the fields of Neurobiology, Behavior, Physiology, Ecology, Evolution, Development and Reproduction, Cell Biology, Biomechanics, Symbiosis, and Systematics.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Marine Biological Laboratory. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Marine Biological Laboratory. "The Secret Lives Of Sea Slugs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 3 May 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060503200157.htm>.
Marine Biological Laboratory. (2006, May 3). The Secret Lives Of Sea Slugs. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060503200157.htm
Marine Biological Laboratory. "The Secret Lives Of Sea Slugs." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060503200157.htm (accessed October 30, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

How A Chorus Led Scientists To A New Frog Species

Newsy (Oct. 30, 2014) A frog noticed by a conservationist on New York's Staten Island has been confirmed as a new species after extensive study and genetic testing. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Surfer Accidentally Stands on Shark, Gets Bitten

Surfer Accidentally Stands on Shark, Gets Bitten

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) A 20-year-old competition surfer said on Thursday he accidentally stepped on a shark's head before it bit him off the Australian east coast. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Dallas Zoo Welcomes Baby Male Giraffe

Raw: Dallas Zoo Welcomes Baby Male Giraffe

AP (Oct. 30, 2014) The Dallas Zoo has a new giraffe with the birth of a healthy male calf. (Oct. 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

Endangered Carpathian Ponies Are Making a Comeback in Poland

AFP (Oct. 29, 2014) At the foot of the rugged Carpathian mountains near the Polish-Ukrainian border, ranchers and scientists are trying to protect the Carpathian pony, known as the Hucul in Polish. Duration: 02:17 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins