Clione limacina in Greenland

September 14, 2007
From: Andy Murray

I am thrilled to find your forum. I am a sea kayak guide, and in Aug. 2007 I was fortunate to find myself guiding in the fiords around Qaanaaq, Greenland. It probably isn't a great news flash to you, but I saw thousands of Clione limacina while paddling there. I also saw quite a few sea butterflies, which I believe were Limacina retroversa. It sounds like the latter would probably be food for the former.

Locality: Qaanaaq, Surface, Greenland, Baffin Bay, August 2007, Surface near shore, and mid fiord. Length: 2-3 cms.

Another thing I was seeing a lot were clear sacks about the size of a chicken egg. They were very ephemeral, and would disintegrate upon being touched by a paddle or a finger. About the only thing that made them visible would be tiny bits of debris attached to them. I am wondering if they would be created by one of these creatures, or if you have any idea what they could be. There were literally thousands of them in the water.

I used to see the same sea butterflies on Baffin Island when I used to live in Clyde River, but I never saw Clione limacina there. Interestingly, I live in Tofino, British Columbia, and while I have guided year round for 7 years here, I have never seen anything like this. I wonder if there's something they like about the east coast of Vancouver Island that they don't get here on the west coast.

Thanks again for your forum, I look forward to any light you can shed on the mystery sacks.
Andy Murray

Murray, A., 2007 (Sep 14) Clione limacina in Greenland. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Dear Andy,
I'll leave your query about 'sea butterflies' in the Washington-British Columbia area to one of our resident experts, but I was fascinated by your description of the mystery 'ephemeral clear sacs'. Of course they could be lots of things, but my first thought was the mucus feeding webs of thecosome pteropods like Limacina retroversa. There are some published papers on the topic but the best overall account is found in Lalli & Gilmer's book Pelagic Snails which I recently reviewed.

These pteropds produce a large mucus bubble, often many times the size of their body, in the case of Limacina helicina it can be 55 mm in diameter and in some species of Cavolinia over 100 mm. The animals 'hang' in the water with these feeding bubbles extended, gradually sinking as the web traps both phytoplankton and zooplankton. Usually the web is ingested, but I guess if the animals are disturbed - by a flotilla of kayaks perhaps - they could release the web as an escape response.

I might be quite wrong but at least it gives me a chance to mention the amazing feeding webs of the sea butterflies

Best wishes,
Bill Rudman

Rudman, W.B., 2007 (Sep 14). Comment on Clione limacina in Greenland by Andy Murray. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from


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