Australia – land of the hot pink slug

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Meet Triboniophorus aff. graeffei, a hot pink slug that lives on Mount Kaputar in New South Wales in Australia. It’s bright pink, as you can see, and it’s about 8 inches long, which you’d imagine would make it fairly visible to potential predators. In fact, it could only be more visible if it wore day-glo lycra pants and carried a flashing neon sign.

So why hasn’t it been gobbled up by birds looking for a hearty meal? Most creatures that flaunt themselves in this way tend to use their vivid appearance as a means of advertising their toxicity to potential predators, yet it doesn’t seem to be toxic. Others mimic the appearance of toxic creatures, but this doesn’t seem to be the case either.

So how can it be so pink (and so large)? National Parks and Wildlife Service ranger Mike Murphy thinks it may be because they spend a lot of time on the ground amid beds of red eucalyptus leaves, so the colour may actually be camouflage. Apparently, though, the creatures spend a fair amount of time on tree trunks well away from any leaves, so Murphy says, “…it is possible that the color is just a quirk of evolution. I think if you are isolated on a remote mountaintop, you can pretty much be whatever color you like.” And apparently these slugs like hot pink.

Although the region is only ten square kilometres, it’s also home to a variety of other quirky invertebrates, including the Kaputar hairy snail and the Kaputar cannibal snail. And because the area is isolated from other ecosystems of its type, the Australian government has declared it an endangered ecological area.

Sadly, this region is in danger from climate change – a temperature increase of only one or two degrees would destroy the unique balance of this area forever.

[Featured image:  Hot pink slug. Image by Rob Cleary, Rob Cleary © State of New South Wales through the Office of Environment and Heritage]

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