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New egg-sucking marine snail discovered off Florida

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A new species of egg-sucking marine snail was discovered by researchers on behalf of the Florida museum. The sea slug, which was named Olea hensoni in honor of Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, belongs to the group of sacoglossans which contains another 300 species.

The peculiarity of Olea hensoni, compared to the other hundreds of species of marine snails in its group, is that it is a “carnivorous” species: they eat the content of the eggs produced by their species or by other species of marine snails sucking from the outside of their surface. It is a fast and efficient method to obtain important nutrients largely untapped by other predators.

And the Olea hensoni seem very efficient in sucking the contents of the eggs since these are usually enclosed in a sort of mucous membrane very efficient in counteracting possible predators. The Olea hensoni is only the third species of marine snail known to eat egg and in general not only vegetarian.

Most marine snails eat plants and seaweeds so much that many of the species have also undergone evolutionary changes, becoming green or resembling leaves on a physical level. Some species, for example, have been called “solar energy snails” and in general marine snails are considered among the most gentle and least “predatory” animals.

The Olea hensoni, along with just two other species of marine snails (Olea hansineensis of the Pacific Northeast and Calliopaea bellula in the Mediterranean), have decided to abandon this “peaceful” life and have given themselves to the almost cannibalism feeding on the eggs produced by the their companions or from other marine snails: “They went from harmless and friendly creatures to predators,” says Patrick Krug, professor of biological sciences at the California State University and one of the authors of the study.

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