A small, real-life “dragon” made a rare appearance on the Australian beach, according to reports this week.
It’s not really a “dragon,” but it’s actually a sea slug, Glaucus atlanticus, known as the “blue dragon.” This rare creature is also venomous and has a painful sting. If you see the slug, don’t try to handle it.
A video of the animal was posted Nov. 12 by a Facebook user before it went viral. It was seen wiggling around on Queensland’s Broadbent beach in Australia.
The slugs float on their backs and move using the surface tension of the water. They’re usually found in moderate to tropical bodies of water.
Came across this odd critter at Broadbeach today. It’s a Glaucus Atlanticus.
Posted by Lucinda Fry on Thursday, November 12, 2015
The slug also feeds on venomous jellyfish. The Blue Dragon is not affected by the venom but instead digests the jellyfish’s toxic sting cells and stores it on the outside of its body. This can be used as a form of defense against predators (or humans). It also uses a gas-filled sac in its stomach to float to the surface, but it floats upside down due to the location of the sac.
“Their sting is so deadly, in fact, that they’re known to take down other venomous marine animals, like the Portuguese man-o-war,” according to The Dodo, a website dedicated to animal news. A Portuguese man-o-war is a type of large jellyfish that can have tentacles as long as 30 feet.
It grows between 3 and 4 centimeters, and it uses the bright, neon-blue color to blend in with the water’s surface.
“If you are ever lucky enough to find a blue dragon, you should never, ever touch it; reported effects include burning, hives, and dark, damaged patches of skin. It’s not known what happened to the person holding G. atlanticus in the photograph below, but it likely wasn’t pleasant,” MentalFloss adds.
Griffith University marine invertebrates expert Kylie Pitt said it’s good the Facebook user who uploaded the viral video didn’t handle the slug.
“I have handled them before and wasn’t stung, but I would not recommend anyone pick them up because they can have a painful sting,” Professor Pitt told the Gold Coast Bulletin.
Pitt added that the slugs are quite strange.
“They are really weird,” she said. “The glaucus eat blue bottles – they float upside down and move around using the water’s surface tension.”