Coral may not be the most active or cuddly creatures, but they are animals, and some of them are predatory. For the first time, a group of researchers caught mushroom coral gulping down a sea slug of the genus Plakobranchus on camera, publishing the images in the journal Coral Reefs.
The scientists from the New Heaven Reef Conservation Program in Thailand and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands witnessed the sea slug evisceration while surveying a reef off an island in the Gulf of Thailand. While evidence of coral eating fairly large animals like salps and jellyfish exists, the sea slug is perhaps the most complicated animal yet preyed on by coral under the watchful eyes of scientists.
The researchers watched the mushroom coral slowly pull the sea slug into its mouth (unlike some other mushroom corals, Pleuractis paumotensis corals only have one mouth) over the course of 20 minutes. The scientists speculate that the slug probably crawled up next to the coral and was hooked by its tentacles. They didn't hang around long enough to see the slug completely devoured, so there's a slight chance that it miraculously survived the encounter. Then again, it probably didn't.
Goodbye forever, doomed sea slug!
[h/t: Hakai Magazine]
All images from Mehrotra et. al, Coral Reefs (2015)