This weird creature is Elysia Chlorotica or the Eastern Emerald Elysia. I stumbled upon this little wonder while poking around the Encyclopedia of Life website (eol.org), and couldn’t leaf the page! (please excuse that pun. It just had to happen)
Anyway, Elysia are solar powered! Well sort of…
The diet of the Elysia consists mainly of algae. Once digested the slug extracts the chloroplasts from the plant and deposits them in its own cells. (Whoa, really!) To obtain algal chloroplasts the slugs use their radula (a special type of “tooth”) to pierce the membrane of the algae cell and suck out its contents. But there’s a catch; the only way the slug can use the chloroplast is to employ several proteins that only the algae can make. So the slug has lifted the algae genes and incorporated them in its own DNA! WOW!! This amazing creature only needs to eat twice a year, and the rest of the time its just soaking in the rays.
We could learn a thing or two about the advantages of the leaf shape. It’s no coincidence that the slug looks the way it does. This unique shape has the duel purpose of providing camouflage and helps the slug photosynthesize. The shape of a leaf provides the best surface area for capturing sunlight and (in plants) expelling gasses.
If we were to look at this creature and its abilities through the lens of Biomimicry, then it gives us a few interesting ideas to ponder:
- First, the fact that both plants and this slug have evolved to be this shape for a reason is intriguing. This shape obviously works for them why not for us?
- We could redesign solar panels to have the same basis shape and structure as leaves allowing them to collect as much light as possible. We could even arrange solar panels on poles imitating the structure of plants.
- Looking at what the slug actually does – steals chloroplasts - we could create materials that already have solar cells built into them, such was the backs of laptops, glass for windows, car exteriors and roof tiles.
I’m not sure how practical or functional some of these ideas are, but thinking about ways to improve our society’s environmental impact is the first step to changing.