Also known as the blue dragon, sea swallow or blue angel, the blue glaucus is a species of brightly colored sea slug (nudibranch), and can be found throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans in temperate and tropical waters. Like most nudibranchs, this species incorporates toxic chemicals or stinging cells from its prey into its own skin. This ability provides the blue glaucus with a defense mechanism against predation.
Despite its impressive arsenal of defense tactics, the blue glaucus rarely reaches more than 3 centimeters long. And, unlike most benthic nudibranchs, this species lives throughout the entire water column. An air bubble stored in its stomach keeps the nudibranch afloat. The creature often floats on its backside, showing its brightly colored underbelly to airborne predators. The bright blue color acts as camouflage against the backdrop of ocean waves while the animal’s grayish backside blends with the bright sea surface, concealing it from predators below. This is an example of a phenomenon known as countershading, helping the creature to avoid both flying and swimming predators while floating in open water.
Like other sea slug species, the blue gaucus isn't venomous by itself. When feeding on its preferred prey, Portuguese man o' wars, the blue gaucus stores the stinging nematocysts created by the prey’s notoriously long, venomous tentacles — these tentacles may average up to 30 feet long! The stinging cells are stored and concentrated for the future, so when the blue dragon is threatened or touched, it can release these stinging cells to deliver a far more potent sting than the Portuguese man o' war can alone. The blue gaucus, like all nudibranchs, is hermaphroditic — each individual produces both eggs and sperm. An individual cannot fertilize its own eggs, however, and pairs still must mate. Long, spiral-shaped eggs are produced by both male and female, and often float freely in the water or stick to nearby surfaces.
Like most small marine invertebrates, little is known about the conservation status of the blue glaucus, especially given the species’ pelagic lifestyle in the open ocean.
1. Blue glaucus can grow up to 1.2 inches (3 cm) long.
2. Blue glaucuses eat large, venomous prey, such as the Portuguese man o’ war and the blue button jelly, and store their prey’s stinging cells in their bodies to later use against predators.
3. Blue glaucuses can swallow air and hold it in their stomach in order to float on the water’s surface.
4. A group of blue glaucuses floating together is called a “blue fleet.” These “blue fleets” often wash ashore and can sting people swimming in the water.
5. Blue glaucuses lay eggs on their prey’s carcasses or other floating masses.1
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.