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“Leaf Sheep” Sea Slugs Are Animals Using Photosynthesis

Photos of Costasiella kuroshimaea.k.a. the “leaf sheep” sea slug, have recently gone viral on Twitter, and for good reason. The leaf sheep doesn’t just have an absurdly cute name, it also has an absurdly cute face. On top of that, the sea critter belongs to the only multicellular-animal clade that can photosynthesize light into food.

The above pictures of the precious little leaf sheep were posted to Twitter by user, L.e. What you’re looking at in the photos is the leaf sheep’s eyes and mouth, as well as its cerata. The cerata are the leaflike appendages that cover the leaf sheep’s body and are filled with algal chloroplasts. Chloroplasts, for those who don’t remember middle school bio, are organelles that conduct photosynthesis using chlorophyll.

The leaf sheep sea slug can photosynthesize light into food.

Silke Baron

In a process referred to as “kleptoplasty,” the centimeter-long leaf sheep grazes on green algae, then retains the consumed chloroplasts. It uses those chloroplasts to photosynthesize energy from light into usable energy—i.e. food. As a result, solar power alone can satiate the sheep slugs for months on end.

For those wondering if leaf sheep slugs are as cute in motion as they are in still portraits, the answer is yes. In the video above, the undersea cuties use their Heffer-like mouths to scour the ground for algae. Literally every single aspect of the leaf sheep is cute. Even their big wiggly horns, referred to as rhinophores, look cute smelling out surrounding seawater.

The leaf sheep sea slug can photosynthesize light into food.

alif_abdulrahman

Unfortunately, the leaf sheep are native to the waters around Japan, which means they’ll be hard to see for many of us. Although, in the eastern emerald elysia, another sea slug belonging to the clade, Sacoglossa, resides along the east coast of the U.S. The eastern emerald elysia (below), like the leaf sheep, can perform photosynthesize light into food. Although it’s not nearly as cute.

The leaf sheep sea slug can photosynthesize light into food.

Karen N. Pelletreau et al

What do you think about these little leaf sheep sea slugs? And what do their adorable faces remind you of most? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

Feature image: alif_abdulrahman