Acidity enhances the effectiveness of active chemical defensive secretions of sea hares, Aplysia californica, against spiny lobsters, Panulirus interruptus.
Sea hares such as Aplysia californica, gastropod molluscs lacking a protective shell, can release a purple cloud of chemicals when vigorously attacked by predators. This active chemical defense is composed of two glandular secretions, ink and opaline, both of which contain an array of compounds. This secretion defends sea hares against predators such as California spiny lobsters Panulirus interruptus via multiple mechanisms, one of which is phagomimicry, in which secretions containing feeding chemicals attract and distract predators toward the secretion and away from the sea hare. We show here that ink and opaline are highly acidic, both having a pH of approximately 5. We examined if the acidity of ink and opaline affects their phagomimetic properties. We tested behavioral and electrophysiological responses of chemoreceptor neurons in the olfactory and gustatory organs of P. interruptus, to ink and opaline of A. californica within their natural range of pH values, from approximately 5 to 8. Both behavioral and electrophysiological responses to ink and opaline were enhanced at low pH, and low pH alone accounted for most of this effect. Our data suggest that acidity enhances the phagomimetic chemical defense of sea hares.
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