Margaret Hines, C’21
He was a sea hare. Kingdom—Animalia. Phylum—Mollusca. Class—Gastropoda. Family—Aplysiidae. His name was Ron Swanson. He was named so for the mustache-like projections on his head.
He came to us one day in a trash bag, along with a dozen or so other alien creatures, as part of a marine mystery box. Pale green with dark spots and a translucent underbelly through which you could see his organs, he looked rather like a booger. If you didn’t know any better, which I didn’t, you would think he was dead on arrival. But he wasn’t. Not even a little bit. Quite the opposite actually.
The tank was divided into two parts, prey and predator. On the prey side, there were the very creatively named sea squirts, sea urchins, sea pansies, sea fans, and Ron Swanson, the sea hare. On the predator side, there were two hermit crabs, a horseshoe crab, a sea anemone, a sea star (yes they are predators), and a portly spider crab with a lust for blood. Divided by a plexiglass wall, the two worlds were isolated to protect those who inhabited them. It doesn’t take a biologist to know that it is very hard to study an organism that has been eaten. Ron Swanson, however, had no such concerns.
He quickly learned how to take advantage of his gelatinous form to access the predator side of the tank. No one knows why. I like to think he got bored with his sessile roommates, so he sought company elsewhere. Armed only with a singular ink gland, he squeezed past the barrier into the unknown. I once saw him crawl over the spider crab, who had just stabbed the anemone the day before, with no consequence or reaction. It was as if he had some kind of diplomatic immunity that he did absolutely nothing to earn. Humans were the only ones who would dare interrupt his voyages.
Fearing the day the portly spider crab would lose his patience with Ron Swanson, we would move him back home with a soup ladle. That ladle was his archnemesis. When he saw it descend into his realm, he clung to the tank wall for dear life, protesting the interruption with a quiet yet fierce defiance. Ron Swanson was not a big fan of the law.
One fateful day, I brought a group of friends to see the invertebrate tank. I wanted to share the joy of this alien world with anyone who had the patience to listen. As we surveyed the fascinating creatures this world had to offer, I watched a group of baggy eyed twenty-somethings light up with a childlike fascination that only nature can create. I tried to find Ron Swanson, figuring he was hiding behind a rock. But when I had checked them all, he was still nowhere to be found. That was when I noticed that the filter unit was a lot quieter than usual.
I checked the plug, the cartridge, the output, everything seemed fine. Then, I saw it. A booger clogging the uptake. It was Ron Swanson. I had mistaken him for the very algae he had chased into the tube. My heart sank to the bottom of my chest, but then a squirm told me he wasn’t dead. Not even a little bit.
I went to work while a horrified audience looked on. He must have seen me pick up the ladle, because he forced his way further and further into the tube to escape it. After some gentle, then not so gentle shaking, he released his grip, floating back down to the sand, visibly disappointed that his daring hunt had ended unsuccessfully. I tried to give him the piece of algae he was after, but it was no use. The damage to his pride was already done. With that, Ron Swanson did tunnel away. That was the last time I saw my friend.
I woke up to a message announcing he had decided to reprise his daring escape act. Only this time, there was no one there to rescue him.
I loved that little alien blob. To this day, I cannot explain how I felt this kind of cosmic kinship with a salty sack of Jello, but I did. He was an awe-inspiring feat of evolution, a testament to synonymous simplicity and complexity of biology. He reminded me of how to be a good animal, whether or not that was his intention.
So with that, I do solemnly say: he was a sea hare. Kingdom—Animalia. Phylum—Mollusca. Class—Gastropoda. Family—Aplysiidae. His name was Ron Swanson. He was named so for the mustache-like projections on his head. He was a menace, a fool, and most importantly, a friend.
Rest in peace, Ron Swanson, and godspeed to the ocean in the sky.