In order to collect, we needed an on-site lab. Luckily for us, there is a field workstation on the island of Elba. The hydra-institute.com, brought to life in the year 1987 by a collaboration of different private research institutions, is located in the little town Via del Forno right next to a large marine bay where a lot of biodiversity thrives. Together with the researchers from Hydra, we set out for daily collection trips to different locations around the island. Most slugs could be collected while snorkelling, however, we also organised a couple of scuba dives, especially for our special guest Vesa (Havurinne) from Finland.
Snorkelling was often more 'luxurious', because there was no need to plan the whole trip in detail prior to every dive. It was nice to be able to quickly get yourself into the tight wetsuit, get your pipets and buckets and dive into the ocean. However, as soon as there was a bit of wind, hanging around on the oceans surface is everything but comfortable. With all the waves it is difficult to focus and as the slugs are only a couple of mm long, it makes it tough to spot them. This is where the extra effort of actual scuba diving pays off. Once submerged, you can fully focus on collecting the tiny E. timidas for a good hour or so. To give you an idea of what a day of collecting looks like, see our new video.
The slugs were kept in small aquaria with their algae food source and fresh seawater from the bay. We collected around 100 individuals during that week and immeditaly made preparations for the long way back to Germany by car. It was important that during the journey, the slugs would be provided with enough oxygen and stay coldish. All the slugs made the long trip back home and are now being reared in our laboratory. We adapt the slugs to the lab for a minimum of a month before starting any experiments and to make sure they are completely acclimatized. That month is over. We also collected a couple of slugs from Elba that we transferred to 96% EtOH for barcoding experiments on site. Our first experiment will test, whether they really feed only A. acetabularia as suggested. More on that in peer-review.