I’ve been wanting to write a post about animals that share an intimate, physical association with plants. Sloths, you’ll remember, host algae inside the cells of their fur. The giant green anemone, which we hosted back at the aquarium, traps algae in its body and uses its photosynthetic energy for its own food. But I never expected this bombshell:
It’s an animal. It’s a plant. It’s half animal, half plant.
It’s Elysia chlorotica, a sea slug that generates its own chlorophyll. It doesn’t host a plant, like the sloth. It doesn’t hijack plants, like the anemone. It literally steals DNA from the algae it eats and incorporates it into its own genes. Keep the light on, and it generates its own food. It is the world’s only known photosynthetic animal. It bridges two kingdoms of organisms. It literally is what it eats.
If you’re not as amazed as I am by this, let me run that by you again: It steals DNA from another being and grafts it on to its own. It can even pass that DNA on to its offspring, ensuring that baby slugs can get their first meal from the sun, without ever taking a bite of anything. The mechanism by which it does this genetic grafting is unknown, but imagine the possibilities inherent in acquiring the properties of what you consume. What would you eat, what would you possess? Me, well… I’m a bit of an epicurean, to be sure, and I’d miss the pleasure of food, but I’d like the same power as the slug. I’d like to turn green. I think I could forgo all the meat in the world to know what it’s like to step outside, turn my face and palms to the sun, and be fully nourished in my body as I am in my soul. I’d like to eat light. I’d like to live with hunger in my skin.