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Every year, new animal species are discovered and the least we can say is that some of them can sometimes seem strange. We will introduce la Clione Limacina which is sometimes nicknamed ange or demon of the seas or even “butterfly of the seas”. Let’s get to know her together.


Credit-Image : by Doctor Richard Kirby

The Clione Limacina or sea butterfly belongs to the category of gastropods, i.e. this animal is classified in the family of snails and slugs.

This small mollusc, about 2.5 cm long, has the particularity of being translucent and has two fins on the sides of the body to move very quickly. One can see through its transparency its organs and besides Clione Limacina does not possess gills (it is the internal or external respiratory organs which allow aquatic animals to extract oxygen from the water in order to be able to breathe). Then how does this hope live without breathing? In fact, she breathes passively through her gelatinous skin. Its head is composed of two pairs of two tentacles which allows it to capture small invertebrates in order to feed and the butterfly has the particularity like most gastropods to be hermaphroditic.

It is believed to live mainly off the coast, although it is sometimes found near the coast. Cliones Limacinas habitats have essentially been established:

  • In the St. Lawrence Estuary (near the Canadian coast),
  • In the Atlantic Ocean,
  • In the Arctic Ocean,
  • Near the New York coast,
  • And according to some testimonies, one would also have seen them in the Okhotsk Sea in Russia.

One can thus easily understand how this mollusc is often called “the angel of the seas” thanks to its so particular physical appearance, but why is it also nicknamed “demon of the seas?

Credit-Image : Journal de Biologie Expérimentale

Simply because this animal is a formidable predator and it is carnivorous! It feeds essentially on another gastropod: the Limacina Hellicina which is in the end a rather close species. It would seem that its prey suffers terribly before being eaten. Indeed, the Clione Limacina when she makes contact with her victim will eject her six buccal cones to rotate her prey towards the entrance of her mouth, which also has chitin hooks that can only be seen when she swallows her meal very quickly in less than 100 ms ! But when she goes after her favourite dish, it takes her half an hour to clean a shell. This makes it easier to understand why it is also called the sea demon. Appearances can sometimes be deceiving.

Yet the Clione Limacina also has a predator that does not hesitate to feed on it. This is the right whale (see photo on the right).

I mean, last question, how does this animal breed?

During the breeding period, the butterflies cling to each other using a suction cup in which they will change their sperm. After each mating, the animals have a scar. They can sometimes mate up to 4 times a day! They lay their eggs in ribbons and they are strategically laid in the areas where the Limacinas Hellicinas live so that the youngest can also feed.

So dear readers, after reading this article: what do you think of this species?

Front-page Image Credit: by Alexander Semenov from Flickr.



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John Sinclair

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