Amongst large rafts of red algae, we have recently found many sea hares washing up on Sanibel shores. The algae that has been washing up is considered by most to be an unpleasant addition to our shores, but it does make its own contributions. Among the algal mats tiny shrimp swim and crawl around, and there are a large number of sea slugs washed ashore that seem to be correlated to the presence of this algae. These interesting little gastropod molluscs are called Aplysia brasiliana, commonly known as sea hares. They are a type of sea slug that normally inhabits sea grass beds, are herbivores and graze on benthic algae. They have been extensively studied by neurophysiologists (scientists that study how nerve cells work) beacuse they have very large nerve cells (10-50 times larger than mammal nerve cells) that are orange in color. For more information about sea hares, visit http://www.seaslugforum.net/factsheet.cfm?base=aplybras. And the next time you see a green-brown blob on the beach, that exudes a purple ink when touched, check it out and introduce yourself to a sea hare. If you can return it to the water on an outgoing tide you might keep it from being stranded.
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