When a human is decapitated, they die almost immediately but if you are a sea slug you can survive for weeks and your head will eventually grow a new body.
Not only can these sacoglossan sea slugs survive without their body, but they have the ability to deliberately separate themselves from the body, by dissolving the tissue that connects their head to their body. This extreme form of self-amputation is believed to be a survival mechanism.
Other creatures can lose limbs to protect themselves such as lizards that shed their tails to escape predators, starfish which can sacrifice their arms, and sea cucumbers which can freakily eject their internal organs, but no other creatures is known to be able to self-amputate its head.
Scientists at the Nara Women’s University in Japan only recently discovered this strange phenomenon by accident. graduate student Sayaka Mitoh was studying the species Elysia marginata when she saw it had lost its head and watched in amazement as the head continued to move around its tank eating algae as if nothing strange had happened.
Sayaka picked up a camera and recorded what she saw. Watch the freaky video below.
The researchers continued to study the slugs and observed that after severing its own head the slugs neck wound would heal within 24 hours and they would successfully regrow their entire body compete with internal organs within 20 days.
“We were surprised to see the head moving just after autotomy. We thought that it would die soon without a heart and other important organs, but we were surprised again to find that it regenerated the whole body.”Sayaka Mitoh, scientist, Nara Women’s University, Japan
The researchers study now believe that this extreme form of autotomy (the scientific name for deliberately discarding a limb) is to protect themselves not form external predators but from predators within tehri own body – parasites.
“Autotomy by the sacoglossans may function to escape from being tangled in algae or to remove accumulated toxic chemicals,” write the researchers in an article published in the journal Current Biology.
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