Travel Theme: Purple

By Vladimir Brezina

Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge this week is Purple.

What's this??

What’s this??

Several times during our recent paddles through Southern Florida, we came across these large squishy creatures, brown with white spots, flapping their wings just under the water’s surface—

A swimming sea hare!

How is this connected with the theme of Purple, you may ask? Well, the connection was established as soon as I picked this one up out of the water. It immediately started oozing a dark purple liquid onto my sprayskirt. I hastily put it back into the water.

Actually, I was expecting this (although I wasn’t expecting the animal to be quite this trigger-happy). For this was an Aplysia, a sea-slug commonly known as a sea hare—and, as it happens, one of the experimental animals that we work with in the lab (although we work with a slightly different species). So I am very familiar with its defensive mechanisms. Rather like squid, a disturbed Aplysia releases, along with other secretions, a cloud of defensive ink.

This ink is deep purple—perhaps the most intense purple color I have ever seen. No wonder that such ink (from a different species of mollusc) was in antiquity the basis of a much-prized dye, Tyrian or Imperial Purple.

I don’t have a photo that does the color of the ink justice, so here’s one by another photographer that begins to give some idea—

Aplysia californica releasing ink

For much more about Aplysia and its ink, including a video of the ink release, see here.

43 responses to “Travel Theme: Purple

  1. Very well captured – by the way, a lovely hat… :D

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  2. So fascinating ! Thanks for sharing. What a surprise I am sure to pick one if these up!

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  3. Hehe… Aplysia is the Greek word of ”unwashed” (from aplytos – άπλυτος). I imagine that’s how the guys who first discovered it ended up after the creature released a cloud of ink on them – unwashed! :-)

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    • I didn’t know that etymology—thank you! Apparently that is the correct etymology of the name (not that I doubted you, but it might have been a mistake or corruption of something else, as quite often happens with zoological names). And it looks like Linnaeus himself might have been responsible :-)

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  4. I just learned something new. Thank you. :)

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  5. Living here on the Gulf Coast and never even heard of this! The video is quite fascinating–this whole post is quite fascinating! Always learning something new. Thanks so much.

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    • We saw just a few of them, swimming. And a fellow paddler who has worked as a guide in the Everglades said he never saw any until this year, when he saw them washed up on the beach every 50 yards… So they are easy to miss for years—until one year when you can’t help seeing them everywhere you go :-)

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  6. I wondered if this was related to the squid. Fascinating stuff.

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  7. It really is a beautiful purple ooze isn’t is? Such an innocuous looking creature too! Is it poisonous ?

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    • Not poisonous, really ;-)

      (Seriously: it may cause some mild skin irritation, especially after long exposure, e.g., when working with these slugs in the lab. So they are generally benign. But that’s just these species—you don’t want to assume that all sea-slugs are so benign.)

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  8. Fascinating post – I’ve only ever seen sea slugs on TV and in aquariums. One of the early episodes of David Attenborough’s Life on Earth has some great video of them swimming.

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    • The Aplysia species we encountered in Florida (probably A. brasiliana) swims, but that’s a bit unusual for Aplysia. Most Aplysia species, including A. californica, the species we work with in the lab, don’t swim.

      But actually Aplysia are among the most drab of the sea slugs. Many other sea-slugs, in particular the Nudibranchs, are vividly colored, with spots and stripes of glowing neon blue, yellow, orange… And of course they are the slugs that usually appear on TV shows :-)

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  9. Is this the stuff that was used to dye the togas of Roman nobility purple? And Johna, that is a very fine hat.

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  10. It is interesting to see the different ways in which creatures defend themselves.

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  11. Ich wünsche <3 einen schönen Dienstag Nachmittag ;-)

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  12. very interesting! its amazing how sea creatures defend themselves. i never heard of aplysia until now. thanks for sharing. :)

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  13. so interesting!…not something I would see in my little world…thanks!

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  14. So that’s the source of Tyrian purple! Who knew? You guys, obviously! Thanks for the lesson.

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  15. It’s a ninja slug! It disappears while the predator’s vision is obscured by the ink just like a ninja throws a smoke bomb to give him enough time to escape from the enemy. ;-)

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  16. This is so interesting.

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  17. What an awesome creature!

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