He had never seen anything like it before. It was a gorgeous creature to look at it, so when he found it, he couldn’t wait to bring it back to show the rest of his family.
The seven-year-old picked it up in his hands and looked over to his parents. But he shouldn’t have taken his eye off the dangerous beauty he was holding.
Trips to Padre Island National Seashore were a Lane family tradition that they had kept going for 30 years.
The golden sands and pleasant waters were something young Hunter had also come to adore. But on that particular day, the adventurous boy had decided to go off exploring on his own – and there was more than sea and sand lying in wait for him.
Hunter was fascinated by sea life. The highlight of the beach trip for him was to scour the wet sand looking for what creatures from the deep had washed up on the shore.
He walked along the beach, his feet sinking into the sand as the tide washed over them. Hunter scanned the coast, but all he could pick out were sticks, pebbles, bits of trash, ordinary shells… Then, suddenly, something blue caught his eye.
Blue isn’t a color that occurs frequently in nature, so his first reaction was that it was some kind of lost beach toy.
It wasn’t like blue wildflowers around the trees or the bright hue of the sky. It was blue like the ocean – a mixture of azure and navy with lines of glistening silver that faded into grey. Hunter leaned in for a closer look. A little too close, in fact.
Tiny tentacles sprouted out of its sides like rows of delicate fans, forcing Hunter to jump back. This was no toy, this thing was alive!
Hunter was equal parts frightened by the creature’s sudden springing to life and excited to have discovered something truly unique on the beach. The young boy couldn’t resist temptation. He picked up a stick and poked at the blue oddity.
The creature squirmed and rolled, the sand sticking to its tendrils. Hunter poked it again.
“Maybe I’ve discovered a new species,” he thought. “Perhaps they’ll even name it after me!” Was he going to become famous? The young explorer couldn’t contain his excitement one second longer. He had to get this thing to his parents.
Every part of Hunter’s curiosity was screaming for him to pick it up. It was so beautiful. Maybe his dad would let him keep it?
The boy dreamed of his classmates’ reactions if he were to take it into school for show and tell. But in all his excitement, Hunter hadn’t noticed a single one of the signs posted up around the beach.
While little Hunter was busy trying to figure out what the thing he’d discovered on the beach was, the Texas National Park Service had already started working to alert the public about strange-looking creatures washing up on local beaches.
Not only was Hunter blissfully unaware of the creature he was about to pick up, he didn’t even know what to do to protect himself against an attack from it.
If anyone sees a blue dragon, the park services posters advised, they should get away from it as fast as possible. And under absolutely no circumstances should anyone touch one.
But seeing as Hunter hadn’t seen any of these posters, the excited boy was already speeding across the beach back to his family. And he had a blue dragon cupped in his hands as he bounced along.
When Hunter reached his family, his face was lit up with a bright smile. He kneeled down to present the blue monster squirming in his cupped hands.
The Lanes were a family of animal lovers, so his father, mother, and sister were excited to see the guest Hunter had brought to show them – and they all were all desperate to pick it up.
Hunter’s father Trey leaned in and looked at the blue dragon closely – although of course, he had no idea that that’s what he was looking at at the time. “Was it some kind of colorful jellyfish or slug?” he wondered.
“Let’s take a walk and see if we can find more!” suggested Hunter excitedly. Holding onto his new pet, the family set off in search of more blue creatures. And they didn’t have to look very far.
As the Lanes strolled over to the spot where Hunter first discovered the creature, a huge wave crashed onto the shore, almost toppling Trey over.
But after the father managed to regain his balance, he felt something brush against his ankle. Trey looked down to see several more of the same blue creatures his son was holding. And that wasn’t all.
All along the shoreline, more of the mysterious blue creatures began to appear as the tide washed them onto the sand.
Other beach-goers had their phones out and were filming or taking pictures. A few looked panicked and were making calls. But when the worried father overheard one of the conversations, he froze to the spot.
“Hunter, put that down! Don’t touch it. It’s poisonous!” Trey screamed at his son. Hunter dropped the blue dragon and jumped away before another wave of them reached his feet.
The blue dragon – also known as glaucus atlanticus, sea swallows or blue angels – are not the kind of things a seven-year-old boy should be messing with. But how could a one-inch sea slug be so dangerous?
The marine gastropod spends its life bobbing along the temperate waters of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.
Its favorite prey might sound familiar: the Portuguese man o’ war (a jellyfish with a VERY painful sting). But, to the blue dragon, it’s not only a source of food – it’s a way to load up on ammunition.
Blue dragons aren’t venomous by their own nature, and they have excellent immunity to other creatures’ stings.
But the way they harm a predator is very interesting (and a bit scary). When they attach onto a man o’ war, their feathery fingers have little sacs on the ends, which they use to carry what it steals.
Sting cells from its food transfer to the little sacs where it’s stored for later.
The more it collects, the more agonizing the pain for its enemies – especially since it can be more concentrated into one spot, lighting the nerve endings on fire. But why are the creatures such an unnatural shade of blue?
The hue comes from what the blue dragon eats as well as the environment it lives in.
It floats with the blue side facing up to blend into the water and with the grey side down to be camouflaged from anything beneath it underwater. However, the blue dragon’s bright color was especially dangerous for young Hunter, because it drew him right to it.
“Hunter loves sea creatures and thought he had found a blue button jellyfish,” said his father Trey. “After he picked it up, he proclaimed to me that he had discovered a new species!”
But Hunter could have become the hunted if he spent even a second longer holding the dangerous creature – their stings hurt twice as much as a jellyfish’s.
This is the first time park spokesperson Jaime Kennedy has heard of blue dragon sightings on the beach. “So, if you see a dragon in the park, be amazed as they are a rare find, but also keep your distance!” warns the national seashore.
In fact, as a general rule, maybe don’t pick up strange creatures you find unless you know exactly what it can do to you!