Meet The Leaf Sheep, the Only Organism That Runs on Solar Power

Due to its resemblance to the animated lamb, many divers in the Philippines lovingly refer to the unusual sea species known as the leaf sheep (Costasiella kuroshimae) as “Shaun the Sheep.” Contrary to what its name implies, the leaf sheep is a marine slug and neither a leaf nor a sheep. It is also a wondrous marvel of nature.

The creature known as a Leaf Sheep or “Sea Sheep” consumes seaweed and produces energy through photosynthesis, just like plants do. This little, adorable creature has a structure like leaves and appears like a small tree.

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This marine invertebrate features two closely spaced black beady eyes, a white head with black rhinophores that resemble sheep’s ears or insect antennae, and green cerata that protrude from its upper surface. The cerata of the sea slug are branching digestive glands that resemble the leaves of an aloe vera plant or a zebra succulent but usually have pink, purple, or white ends. Rhinophores, which give sea slugs their sense of smell and help them locate food sources, detect chemical signals in the water.

They are up to 5 millimetres long and are more commonly found in Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Avrainvillea, a soft, felt form of algae that thrives in locations with soft substrates like silt or fine sand, is the food source for leaf sheep.

Coming to the attribute that sets it significantly apart from almost all living organisms, the leaf sheep, a species of Sacoglossa, or “sap-sucking” sea slug, grazes (much like its herbivorous namesake) on the algae, sucking its chloroplasts (structures within the algae’s cells that contain chlorophyll, a green photosynthetic pigment), and retaining them within the tissues of its cerata for up to 10 days.

By using photosynthesis, a process typically usually associated with plants, the leaf sheep can augment its nutrition. The leaf sheep is known as the “solar-powered sea slug” because of its photosynthetic capabilities. The leaf sheep is the only creature on the planet that runs on solar power.

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