How do some animals incorporate the stinging cells of other species into their own defences?

04 June 2006

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Question

This morning I listened to the May 14th broadcast. One of the discussions was about the stinging cells (nematocysts) of jelly fish. Someone brought up the point about the ability of certain species to incorporate these stingers into their own tissue and this is a subject I know a little bit about.

Answer

Sea anemones, which also possess nematocysts, are the primary food of Nudibranchs (sea slugs) in my geographic area. The nudibranchs will feed on the anemone and some of the nematocysts survive unfired to be transported to Cerata. The cerata are similar to the tentacles of the anemone and lie on the dorsal surface of the slug. I used to examine these cerata and the incorporated nematocysts using an electron microscope many years ago. It's really quite fascinating to follow the progression from the digestive tract into the cerata. I don't have a clue how they accomplish this. Anyway, if anyone is interested in more information, the two species I know of are called Aeolidia papillosa and Coryphella rufibranchialis. You should be able to find some info about these creatures on the web.

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