Sea butterflies, a group of swimming sea snails, are canaries in the coal mine for the ocean. Delicately beautiful and highly sensitive to the changing oceans, these tiny creatures—most smaller than a pinky nail!—present a unique way to gauge climate. One-quarter of the carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere dissolves into the ocean, which makes the water more acidic and makes it more difficult for these animals to build their own shells.

Scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History are studying them to learn how ocean acidification will affect a wide array of ocean animals. Read our article at Smithsonian Magazine about the animals and scientists studying themwith stunning photos.

All photos © Karen Osborn (Smithsonian biologist)

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