Creepy crawly fluffy bunny

In a change of pace this week, we are looking at sea slugs.

Sea slugs??, I hear you repeat, in a tone of wonderment – or is that disbelief? – I can’t be quite sure, and your raised eyebrows are not helping.

Anyhow, before we take a closer look at those frisky little critters, we first intend to address our Editorial Policy, by way of explanation for why we feel it is appropriate, here on this blog, at this particular moment in time, to talk about sea slugs.

As any regular reader will know (I deliberately use the singular, as our polling indicates that there is approximately one of you out there!) here on Blathering About Nothing our team of intrepid reporters do their very best to deliver every single day – or, on average, once every 2 to 3 weeks –  an article deemed educational or newsworthy, whether that is a study on the behaviour of socks, an investigation into the history of a moustache, an opinion-piece on the revoltingness of milk, or just for something different, an examination of the potentially lethal dangers of yoga mats.*

You’ve probably gathered from the above topics, that part of our editorial policy on this blog is to avoid, wherever possible, simply jumping on the bandwagon of whatever topic is the latest craze to go viral on social media. Socks, moustaches, milk and yoga mats are examples of topics we brainstorm in the editorial offices, and deem to be, not only newsworthy and educational, but also, very safe bets in our strategy to avoid joining in on any social media frenzies. So if you are looking for the latest dumb thing said by Tony Abbott,* done by Kim Kardashian, or worn by that young female celebrity whose name I can’t remember, you will not find it here. If, on the other hand, you like moustaches, socks, yoga mats, celebrity ears, or hate milk, then there is something here for you, my friend.

An artist's likeness of former Australian PM Tony Abbott

An artist’s likeness of former Australian PM Tony Abbott

(Note that in the Sliding Doors version of writing this post – where we see the alternative-universe version of the direction this post might have taken if I smiled more, chopped my hair into an elfin, page-boy cut and had it dyed blonde – the previous paragraph could have been cleverly placed as an introduction, allowing me to fill this current paragraph with a long, amusing list of idiotic things you theoretically wouldn’t find here. What a missed opportunity for a gag-within-a-gag! Unfortunately as I don’t  generally follow those kinds of news items, I can’t even begin to imagine what they might be, so we are stuck with the sad-faced Gwyneth Paltrow with the boring brown hairstyle.)

So when brainstorming in the office this week, this reporter recalled an image that flitted momentarily through her Twitter feed many months ago, only to pop up in her memory again recently when she was filling time on a long train journey by trying to think of something to write about.

That image, which apparently went viral for a short time in the middle of 2015, was of a particular species of sea-slug that, on first glance, looks for a moment like a cute fluffy bunny rabbit. After that first moment, you realise that the cute fluffy bunny has no nose, mouth or eyes that you can discern, and suddenly its cuteness is kind of undercut by a somewhat alien, slightly creepy, quality.

No doubt it was this cute-but-wait-a-minute-it’s-kind-of-creepy look (which was all the rage in Paris this summer), that caused pictures of the sea-slug to go viral on social media in about July of this year. However, as it’s now late September, our Editorial Team decided that the sea-slug is safe for us to cover, since it’s clear that we missed the bandwagon when this going to viral land. (We didn’t even make it to the bandwagon departure point. Where do bandwagons depart from these days anyway? It’s no wonder we are never on them – it’s very hard jumping on bandwagons in modern times, when it seems the only way to catch them is to take a running jump as they go past at high speed, with a high risk of landing in the middle of the brass section and knocking out the tuba player’s teeth.)

If you still doubt our editorial integrity, you only have to look back at some of our past posts to see that we have, from time to time, expressed a particular fondness for primitive creatures who reached their evolutionary peak many millenia ago, and have stayed pretty much the same ever since then. We’ve published pieces about jellyfish and other deep sea creatures, cockroaches, and parasites (in the form of large hairy moustaches), for example. So its clear: here at Blathering About Nothing, we are fascinated with the primordial.

As a last ode to our integrity – or a perverse desire to ensure we never use cheap tricks to get extra hits on this site, we’ve made the editorial decision not to link to any of the pictures of the slug that were widely circulated. But we are not leaving it entirely to your imagination – we commissioned an artist to do a portrait of the slug for us. I’m sure you can appreciate that this was an expensive venture, given the cost of the deep-sea diving gear and the underwater pencils that work at depths of more than 4 metres.

 

An artist's likeness of a sea slug (fig 1.) and a cute fluffy bunny (fig 2.)

An artist’s likeness of a sea slug (fig 1.) and a cute fluffy bunny (fig 2.), note similarities.

Now one thing that this slug-bunny, as we like to call it, reminds us of is Wittgenstein, a famous philosopher, who wrote about the phenomenon of seeing something as something else. His example was an image of a duck-rabbit – on first glance you may see a duck’s head, then when you look again, it’s a rabbit’s head, on its side. Woah, right? (To see what I mean, check out an art work inspired by this idea, called The Duck-Rabbit Problem, by Australian artist Kathy Temin, which you can see here or in the contemporary collection at the National Gallery of Victoria.) The equivalent in 2015 is the slug-rabbit problem, a philosophical problem which can be encountered by anyone in their own home with time on their hands, by Googling “sea-slug with rabbit ears.”

The other thing that we like about the sea slug is, as mentioned, that it reminds us of deep sea creatures who look as though they did all their evolving a few millenia ago and then sat back – or slithered around, as is more usually the case – and let the rest of us various species gradually appear, and then blunder along doing our best to evolve, losing casualties along the way, trying to work out who was the fittest, etc etc. Take jellyfish for instance. According to the Smithsonian, they have been drifting aimlessly around in our oceans for more than 500 million years. In comparison, homo sapiens appeared around 200,000 years ago, a mere blip at the end of that time period.

A rigorous search by our intrepid research team has so far been unsuccessful in establishing just how long the particular species of sea slug in question, the Jorunna parva, or “bunny-rabbit slug”*, has been around for, so any insinuations that it has been crawling around on the ocean’s substrate for as long as jellyfish have are purely conjecture on the part of the writer (ie, me), made in order to ensure that the theme I’d decided is not spoiled by the presentation of evidence to the contrary. This, of course, is common practice in any tax-payer funded research project, so if you have evidence to the contrary, we will thank you to keep it to yourself, or write your own post on sea-slugs, which we will read with great interest.

As a final note, if you’d like to see lots of pictures of the bunny-rabbit-like slug, check out this website. If you’d like to ask a sea-slug a question you can go to the sea-slug forum. And if you have no interest at all in sea slugs, well, I guess you stopped reading a while ago, which was probably a smart move.

*

* Although we usually try to avoid topics that are popular on social media, we have actually written posts about cats. We hasten to point out that our cats were not falling off/into toilets, or speaking in a dumbed-down pigeon-English. Ours were far more diverse in their activities, which included hiding under the bed and doing star jumps. Despite that, one of our cat posts did go viral – relatively speaking, meaning that it got about 1000 more views than any other post on this blog has. Except for one about socks, which turned out to be our most popular post ever. Go figure.

*Similar to Donald Trump but with less money and more of his own hair

*the latin name probably does not mean bunny-rabbit-slug, although I suppose it might.

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6 Comments

  1. I have come across sea slugs before and found them rather intriguing and beautiful. However, I had not known about Jorunna parva and thank you for the introduction. There’s a nice article about it in National Geographic which explains, inter alia, that it is both small (less than an inch long) and short-lived (enjoying a lifespan of just a few months).

    Of course, the sea slug really looks nothing like a rabbit and our tendency to see a rabbit is an example of pareidolia, where the brain projects a familiar pattern onto an unfamiliar one, the most famous example of that being Percival Lowell’s “canals” on Mars.

    The opposite can happen as well (people mistaking familiar objects for alien ones), an example being the UFO community’s insistence on redefining aircraft, planets and hot air balloons as extra-galactic flying saucers. Seeing Jesus in a jar of pickles or a sliced mango is far more common. The brain is an excellent pattern-matching machine that frequently identifies objects with surprisingly few clues but sometimes gets it completely wrong – hence the fun we have with “optical illusions”.

    I just hope that the passion for bunny sea slugs soon subsides or I can imagine them being hunted for sale as pets with the inevitable disastrous results.

    Another interesting topic is that of viruses. What would it take, I wonder, for a virus to go viral?

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    • I’m pleased to have introduced to this furry (looking) creature. I guess Wittgenstein’s theory about seeing one thing “as” another thing probably touches on the brain’s tendency for finding patterns. That is a very interesting topic in itself because it applies in so many ways! For example our inability to understand what we’ve been told when someone dies suddenly could be because it does not fit into the pattern we have in our minds, and our need to date memories and create a timeline of their life – in my case anyway – could be seen as an attempt to reconstruct a different pattern where the death fitted in.

      Thanks for the link to the National Geographic article. I love that they quote a “sea-slug expert.” That’s a career I’ve never heard anyone aspire to!

      It’s funny that your thought processes ended by taking you in the direction of viruses, because I had a whole paragraph about bacteria in a draft of this post (since bacteria has been around even longer than jellyfish) but my post was, as usual, getting way too long and going off on too many tangents, so I took it out.

      (I know bacteria and viruses are not the same thing but it’s easy to mix them up as they are both so small. Even by sea-slug standards.)

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  2. weebluebirdie

     /  September 28, 2015

    A classic piece of blathering about nothing!! We spent much of Saturday at the the University for the Doors Open Day. A fine time was had by all in the zoology dept where we looked down microscopes at microbeasties. We were also impressed by the various skeletal and stuffed artefacts. I was impressed that the Kid already knew that the male platypus had a poison gland in his hind leg. I mean, who knows stuff like that?? Well, I guess you might, seeing as how they live in your neck of the woods!!

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    • When I was growing up in the country, our local pool was actually an old mine-shaft full of water, & once there was a platypus swimming around in it with us! (Well I think we all got out in fright – perhaps someone knew about the poisonous gland!)

      The older I get, or perhaps it’s the longer I write this blog for, the more I wish I’d taken more interest in Biology classes at school. I could definitely see marine biology being a fascinating career now!

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  3. The trouble with viruses is that they are so small that it’s hard to see what they might be masquerading as, supposing that they are. A virus-sized bunny would be hard to spot.

    My remark about viruses was prompted by the thought that, among things that might “go viral” (i.e. spread like a virus), viruses must surely be favourites to succeed.

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    Reply
    • Indeed. Probably the greatest testament to a virus’s ability to go viral is the way it can take out an entire child-care centre, which, you’d imagine, is a relatively Internet-free zone. I guess that would be referred to as “going viral off-line.”

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