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The blue dragon was last seen in 1925 before several were spotted in 2021. SUR

The blue dragon: the curious creature returning to the Spanish coastline after 100 years

Its scientific name is Glaucus atlanticus and it is a gastropod that does not have a shell, but has developed a unique defence against predators

Alberto Flores / Carlos Valdemoros

Friday, 19 May 2023

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After 100 years, the blue dragon is returning to the Spanish coastline.

Several of the curious creatures were spotted during the summer of 2021 on the coast of Alicante, a century after their last sighting in the Balearic Islands in 1925. They had also been seen in Ibiza in 1705, according to botanist Johann Philipp Breyne.

Professor in the Zoology department of the University of Granada, Luis Sánchez Tocino, said the blue dragon, whose scientific name is Glaucus atlanticus, is a gastropod that does not have a shell, but has developed a unique defence against predators.

While some similar animals develop defend themselves by generating small calcium carbonate spines, or secreting substances they use as a repellent against predators. But in the case of the blue dragon, it does not use any of these.

"Its defence system is based on the stinging cells of the animals it feeds on. They store them in their digestive system and act when they need to defend themselves," Sánchez said.

To do so, it feeds on different animals such as the Portuguese man-of-war (Physalia physalis), the blue button jellyfish (Porpita porpita) or the sea sail (Velella velella).

The size of the blue dragon is between 20 and 30mm and stands out for its flattened body. It lives just below the surface, which is where its prey is, while it uses its colour to go unnoticed by its predators.

Its scientific name is Glaucus atlanticus and it is a gastropod that does not have a shell.
Its scientific name is Glaucus atlanticus and it is a gastropod that does not have a shell. SUR

"Its blue colour means that from the air it can be mistaken for the colour of the sea, while below it is silver, making it difficult to distinguish from the sun's rays against the light," Sánchez pointed out.

He advised people to avoid them and not bother them if spotted, but said contact with them is harmless for people due to their small size. However, care should be taken if you have sensitive skin or suffer allergies.

Several experts suggested the latest sightings of the blue dragon could be a result of global warming and rising sea temperatures. But the marine zoology expert did not believe this: "It already appeared in the Balearic Islands in 1914, so I don't think it has anything to do with climate change,” he said.

He pointed out that it could have more to do with sea currents, which help drag and move the blue dragon: "A few years ago, many Portuguese caravels appeared, so it is most likely that they were accompanied by blue dragons".

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