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Sea Slug Highlight: The Ragged Sea Hare

Bursatella leachii pleii (Rang, 1828) reaches 80 mm (3.15 inches) in parts of its geographic range in the western Atlantic. The vernacular (common) name derives from the presence of characteristic branched papillae, which impart a “disheveled” aspect to the slug. The species lacks the parapodia (wing-like expansions) that are typical of the larger sea hares in the genus Aplysia. It also completely lacks a shell in the adult stage (a shell is present in the larva and juveniles).


The Ragged Sea Hare, Bursatella leachii pleii, from Sarasota Bay. Photo by Ángel Valdés.

Given the proper conditions, the species is known to occur in high densities of up to 660 individuals per square meter (about 11 square feet). As with most sea slugs and their relatives, Ragged Sea Hares are cross-fertilizing hermaphrodites (male and female reproductive systems in same individual), with one reproductive encounter resulting in two fertilized individuals. Ragged Sea Hares lay their eggs in clear, gelatinous strands that resemble thin spaghetti. The photo below was taken by José H. Leal, with the sea hare in a Museum tank maintained by Rebecca Mensch. Read more about the Ragged Sea Hare and other local mollusks in the Southwest Florida Shells Guide.


A Ragged Sea Hare, Bursatella leachii pleii, from Sanibel, with egg strands.

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