Kleptoplasty (also known as kleptoplastidy or chloroplast symbiosis) occurs across a diverse range of eukaryotic organisms—dinoflagellates, ciliates, foraminifera, and even some sea slugs! It happens when a predator ingests a chloroplast-containing prey (often algae) and retains only the plastids, while it digests the rest. The predator can thenceforth photosynthesise to produce its own fuel. It really is an ingenious principle: why waste energy constantly looking for prey when one can just devour some algae, retain their chloroplasts, and use them for fuel production? It’s a great mechanism to have, especially in a resource-limited environment.

Certain types of sea slugs called sacoglossans possess the capacity for kleptoplasty. One in particular, Elysia chlorotica, can survive its entire adult life on the photosynthetic products of the chloroplasts it sequesters in the first few days of its adult life from its food source, the intertidal alga Vaucheria litorea. Even though the larvae of E. chlorotica eat V. litorea, they don’t retain chloroplasts until after reaching the adult stage of the life cycle and then ingesting V. litorea

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