Sea angel

Sea angel

name = Sea angel

image_width = 240px
image_caption = "Clione limacina"
regnum = Animalia
phylum = Mollusca
classis = Gastropoda
subclassis = Orthogastropoda
superordo = Heterobranchia
ordo = Opisthobranchia
subordo = Gymnosomata
subdivision_ranks = Families
subdivision =

Sea angels, also known as cliones, and previously known as one kind of pteropod, are a group of small swimming sea slugs.

These are pelagic marine opisthobranch gastropod mollusks in the suborder Gymnosomata within the superorder Heterobranchia.

The number of families defined within this order varies from one taxonomist to another, but there may be as many as eight families and 17 genera. In the new taxonomy of Bouchet & Rocroi (2005), the clade Gymnosomata is arranged as follows :
*Superfamily Clionoidea : family Clionidae, family Cliopsidae, family Notobranchaeidae, family Pneumodermatidae
*Superfamily Hydromyloidea : family Hydromylidae, family Laginiopsidae

Thliptodontidae is then treated as Thliptodontinae, a subfamily of the family Clionidae.


In this suborder the foot of the gastropod has developed into wing-like flapping appendages ("parapodia") and their shells have been lost. These are both adaptations which suit their free-swimming oceanic lives. The adaptations also explain the common name "sea angel" and the New Latin name of the order; from "gymnos" meaning "naked" and "soma" meaning "body."

The other suborder of pteropods, Thecosomata, are superficially similar to sea angels but are not closely related. They have larger, broader parapodia, and most species retain a shell; they are commonly known as sea butterflies.

Sea angels are gelatinous, mostly transparent and very small, with the largest species ("Clione limacina") reaching 5 cm. "Clione limacina" is a polar species; those found in warmer waters are far smaller. Some species of sea angel feed exclusively on sea butterflies; the angels have terminal mouths with the radula common to mollusks, and tentacles to grasp their prey, sometimes with suckers similar to cephalopods. Their "wings" allow sea angels to swim much faster than the larger (usually fused) wings of sea butterflies. Other species of sea angel feed mostly on zooplankton.

Another large polar species of sea angel, "Clione antarctica", defends itself from predators by synthesizing a previously unknown molecule, named "pteroenone". As predators will not eat the sea angel some animals, such as amphipods, take up home inside them. Local population density of "Clione antarctica" may reach claustrophobic levels; up to 300 animals per cubic metre have been recorded.

Life habits

Slowly beating their parapodia, sea angels gracefully fly through the upper 20 metres of the water column. Although usually slow-moving, they are capable of surprising bursts of speed.

The animals are simultaneous hermaphrodites, and fertilization occurs internally. A gelatinous egg mass is released during spawning, and the eggs float freely until hatching. Their embryonic shells are lost within the first few days after hatching.

urvival threats

The IPCC reports that increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is causing acidification of the oceans, which could eliminate pteropods from the Southern Ocean and cause serious repercussions throughout the food chain. [ [ 2007 IPCC Working Group II Report on Polar Impacts] ]




* "Mollusca - The Southern Synthesis" Order Gymnosomata by L. Newman pages 985-989; Beesley, P.L., Ross, G.J.B. & Wells, A (eds) - ISBN 0-643-05756-0

External links

* list of Clione entries in the Sea Slug Forum: []
* [ Mikko's Phylogeny Archive]
* [ Reconstruction of the phylogeny of Opisthobranchia; Journal of Molluscan studies]

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