The Shaggy Sea Hare, Bursatella leachii, is a fascinating marine gastropod mollusc found in estuaries along the South African coast, including that of Great Brak River. This unique creature belongs to the Aplysiidae family and is distinguished by its shaggy appearance and striking colouration. Measuring up to 20 cm in length, the Shaggy Sea Hare boasts a distinctive body covered in elongated papillae, giving it a shaggy or furry appearance. These papillae have multiple purposes, including camouflage, defence against predators, and act as sensory organs.

The colouration of the Shaggy Sea Hare can vary, ranging from shades of brown and green to vibrant hues of orange and red. This helps it blend with its surrounding environment of seagrass beds and rocky substrates within estuaries.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the Shaggy Sea Hare is its feeding behaviour. As an herbivorous species, it primarily grazes on algae, especially green macroalgae. A specialized feeding organ, the radula, allows it to scrape algae off surfaces with great efficiency. This feeding habit not only shapes the distribution of algae within estuarine ecosystems but also contributes to nutrient cycling and overall ecosystem health.

In addition to its appearance and feeding habits, the Shaggy Sea Hare has several other fascinating attributes. Like many marine gastropods, it is a hermaphrodite, possessing both male and female reproductive organs. During mating, individuals engage in elaborate courtship rituals, exchanging sperm packets before laying eggs in gelatinous strands.

Despite seemingly docile in nature, the Shaggy Sea Hare possesses a unique defence mechanism. When threatened by predators such as fish or crabs, it can release a purple ink-like substance known as ink sac secretions. This secretion acts as deterrent, confusing and repelling potential predators while the Sea Hare makes a swift escape.

Whilst the exact lifespan of the Shaggy Sea Hare varies, they typically live for about one to two years in the wild. Beyond South African estuaries, the Shaggy Sea Hare can be found in other coastal regions of the Indo-Pacific, including the Red Sea, Indian Ocean, and western Pacific Ocean. Its presence highlights the ecological importance of coastal habitats, and ongoing research across the globe aims to understand its physiology, behaviours, and ecological role further. Conservation efforts are crucial to protect these intriguing creatures and the delicate ecosystems they inhabit.