Like many other marine creatures, Aplysia, a common sea slug, enlists chemical defenses against its predators, but the mechanisms by which such chemical attacks actually work against their intended targets are not well understood by researchers. New work has now shown that such chemical defenses can involve modes of trickery that had not previously been appreciated as components of chemical defense.
When attacked by predatory spiny lobsters, sea slugs (also known as sea hares) release an inky secretion, termed ink and opaline, from a pair of glands. The new findings show that Aplysias defensive secretion includes a variety of chemicals that together comprise a multi-pronged attack on the predators nervous system, resulting in the usurpation of its normal behavioral control system and a confused response that facilitates the slugs ultimate escape.
The team of researchers conducting the study, Cynthia Kicklighter, Zeni Shabani, and Paul Johnson, led by Charles Derby of Georgia State University, discovered that in addition to containing unpalatable, aversive chemicals, Aplysias inky secretion contains large quantities of chemicals that are also found in the food of spiny lobsters and that indeed these chemicals serve to activate nervous-system pathways that control feeding behaviors of the lobster. The inky secretion also stimulates other behaviors in the lobster, including grooming and avoidance. Ironically, the slugs ability to trick the lobsters nervous system into activating feeding-associated behaviors succeeds, in combination with ink and opalines other effects, in distracting the lobster sufficiently to enable the slugs successful evasion.
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