The sea butterfly has really earned its nickname. These tiny snails are only a few millimeters wide, and they have a pair of appendages that propel them through the water in an unusual way.
New research published in the Journal of Experimental Biology shows that sea butterflies move these appendages the same way that small insects move their wings.
To figure this out, a team of scientists ordered a huge batch of the snails and let the little guys paddle around through an aquarium filled with infrared lasers and high-speed cameras. They analyzed the footage and discovered the snails move their appendages in the same "clap and fling" motion as insects, where a bug will clap its wings behind it and then fling them apart.
The motion creates a vortex that lifts the creature through the air, or in the case of the sea butterfly, through the water. You can see how the figure-eight motion pushes and pulls the water around the snails:
Studying these tiny snails might influence the way we design small flying drones in the future, the researchers conclude in their paper. And a sea-butterfly-inspired drone would probably be the cutest thing ever.
You can watch the whole video of the snails in action here:
h/t Live Science