Episode 131 – Eastern Emerald Elysia: An Animalian Rebel

“…And today we’re talking about a naughty slug that doesn’t play by the rules. But more on that later.”

Hi, LDT listeners. You’re about to hear something special: Life, Death and Taxonomy’s first ever theme song. We’ve long set the mood with free to use web found music, but thanks to our friend Casy, we now have a song that is unique to us! Help us show our appreciation by checking out more of Casy’s music at her YouTube channel. Click the link on LDTaxonomy.com or search Casy Michelle on YouTube! Let’s get into the episode!

Some animals just prefer not to play by the rules. Animals change lanes all the time. Bats are mammals that fly. Sharks are fish that give birth to live young. But most animals stick to their kingdom, except for a particular sea slug. When all others spend their lives hunting and gathering for sustenance, this slug goes out of bounds to borrow a technique. But creatures that prove that some rules are made to be broken often find the most success in Life, Death, and Taxonomy.


In case the nicknames didn’t clue you in, this slug is green, obnoxiously so. It’s basically a slug with the body of a big wide leaf

Picture a broad, oval-shaped leaf with the veins and all, then slap a little green slug’s head to the part where the leaf’s stem would normally go. Kinda like a toy in Sid’s room.

It gets this color based on the food it eats, which we’ll talk about later. But just know that it can also be red or greyish depending on how much food is in its system.

It can even have little flecks of white and red spots all over that make it look like a flavor-blasted cooler ranch Dorito not a sponsor. 

Its sluggish head is kinda this amorphous blob that has two little horn-like antennae sticking out the top. Two beady black eyespots are located underneath.

Fast Facts

These slugs, like lots of gastropods, are hermaphroditic, meaning they have boy parts and girl parts. But they don’t self-fertilize like the African Giant Snail. They just meet up with another slug and decide which parts they feel like using that day.

Measure Up

Welcome to the beloved Measure Up segment. The official listener’s favorite part of the show! The part of the show when we present the animal’s size and dimension in relatable terms through a quiz that’s fun for the whole family. It’s also the part of the show that’s introduced by you when you send in audio of yourself saying, singing, or chittering the words measure up into ldtaxonomy at gmail dot com. We do have a new measure up intro this week from Mindset Reframed aka Some Rando.


  • They can be up to 60 mmm but they tend to be 20 to 30 mm.
  • 30 mm
  • How many E3s go into the length of key largo?
  • Hint: Key Largo is spanish for Key Long. It’s the largest of the Florida Keys.
  • Answer: 1,609,344 slugs. Key Largo is about 30 miles (50 km) long.


  • 10 months
  • How many E3s go into the age of George Washington Carver when he died?
  • Hint: GWC was an agricultural scientist that worked to create crop alternatives to cotton and to prevent soil depletion, which happens if you plant the same crop in the same field too many times in a row. He may be most famous for his publication that taught 105 ways to use the peanut. 
  • Answer: 94.8 E3 lifespans. Carver was 79 when he died.

Major Fact: Sap-Sucking Sun Eater

Members of the clade Sacoglossa are called sun eaters because they have the unique ability to photosynthesize. 

Plants gain energy from the sun through a process called photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis is a fairly complex and apparently inefficient process, but at the end of the day it lets organisms sustain themselves without moving.

Plant cells have something that the kingdom we know, love, and are in doesn’t: plastids.

One of these plastids is called chloroplast, and it’s instrumental for photosynthesis because it stores chlorophyll.

There’s much more to learn about photosynthesis but we have to move on to see how this slug is related!

Esmeralda doesn’t have these chloroplasts in its body to make photosynthesis happen. So these slugs monch on algae and suck up all the chloroplast and save it for later. 

Somehow, the chloroplast continues to photosynthesize, converting sunlight to energy. 

Now, Esmeralda still has a problem. Chloroplasts need a specific protein that’s made in a plant cell nucleus to continue to function.

However, researchers have discovered this protein-making genome is found in the slug. 

Somehow, the genome is transferred to the slug at some point from the algae. Once they have the chloroplast and the genes to keep them going they never have to eat again.

They can go their whole life cycle without eating, which can be up to a year.So the algae gene is transferred and integrated into the slug.

This is the first time they’ve found a naturally occurring gene transfer.

If we can figure out how this works, we could get better at treating genetic diseases and stuff like cancer that’s caused by genes.

After the Fact

There’s a wearable suit called Algaculture that some guy made based on the idea that we’re all going to eventually be sustained off of colonies algae that we have to wear as a suit.

A singer in London performed a mini-opera called the Algae Opera where she blew the carbon dioxide from singing into the tubes. The algae would feed off the CO2 and she would feed on the algae.

The idea was that the notes she sang would change the amount of CO2 going into the suit and therefore the taste of the algae, which the audience could enjoy at their leisure after the performance. They could literally taste the music in what may be the nastiest musical performance since Meatloaf.