Meet the “Leaf Sheep”: A Captivating Sea Slug Resembling a Cartoon Sheep
Prepare to be amazed by the enchanting Costasiella kuroshimae, fondly known as the “Leaf Sheep.” This endearing aquatic slug boasts an uncanny resemblance to a charming cartoon sheep, complete with beady eyes and adorable feelers. Its diet primarily consists of algae, much like its terrestrial counterpart.
What sets this diminutive, utterly charming creature apart, beyond its mere 5mm length, is its exceptional ability to perform photosynthesis. Found near Japan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, it stands as one of the very few sea creatures in the world capable of this feat (others belonging to the sacoglossan sea slug clade). During feeding, these remarkable beings extract chloroplasts from consumed algae and integrate them into their own bodies through a process known as kleptoplasty. This phenomenon, typically the domain of single-celled organisms, endows them with solar-powered capabilities.
Should this darling marine creature inspire newfound appreciation for sea slugs, consider acquainting yourself with the delightful “sea bunny” sea slug to solidify your enchantment.
This astonishing marine inhabitant, reminiscent of a Pixar creation, is not a figment of imagination but a bona fide sea slug species known as Costasiella kuroshimae. It remains among the exclusive circle of beings in the world capable of using algae for photosynthesis.
Characterized by its unique features—large, expressive eyes, a flat face, and dexterous feelers resembling miniature hands—the “leaf sheep” earns its name from its resemblance to a cartoony sheep. Instead of grazing on grass like their land-dwelling counterparts, these underwater grazers relish consuming algae.
Algae is the key to their extraordinary abilities. Upon consumption, they extract chloroplasts, storing them within their bodies to harness energy. This process, known as kleptoplasty, is typically reserved for single-celled organisms, making the leaf sheep a rare species—a solar-powered slug, so to speak. As part of the sacoglossan sea slug clade, they are among the select few capable of photosynthesis.
With hidden superpowers, these endearing sea slugs can grow up to an impressive 5mm in length. Their overwhelming cuteness might tempt one to wish for them as pets. However, to witness these captivating creatures, a dive near Japan, Indonesia, or the Philippines is necessary.
While several sea slug species retain and isolate chloroplasts, most digest them quickly or only manage to preserve them for a brief period. Only a handful, like the sea sheep, can store chloroplasts for months, a remarkable adaptation that ensures their survival even in times of algae scarcity, as suggested by scientists.