CRITTER: Meet the clumpy nudibranch

  • Terry Lilley / contributed

    The clumpy nudibranch lacks any kind of shell, and its gills are exposed on its back. They look like small feathers, and can be retracted into their bodies or extended to capture oxygen from the saltwater to breathe.

  • Terry Lilley / contributed

    Nudibranchs are soft-bodied, colorful sea slugs. They live in most of the world’s oceans from a foot deep all the way down to over 100 feet deep.

Nudibranchs are soft-bodied, colorful sea slugs that make millions of dollars for dive companies worldwide each year! They live in most of the world’s oceans from a foot deep all the way down to over 100 feet deep. Divers travel all around the globe to take pictures of these tiny reef creatures because many of them have crazy beautiful colors and patterns. Just Google “nudibranch” and you might be amazed at what you find.

In Hawai‘i, we have one of the largest nudibranchs on Earth, that grows to 10 inches long. Most nudibranchs are one to two inches. The clumpy nudibranch lacks any kind of shell, and its gills are exposed on its back. They look like small feathers, and can be retracted into their bodies or extended to capture oxygen from the saltwater to breathe. Nudibranchs lack eyes, but they have two antennae for sensing their surroundings.

The clumpy nudibranch is one of the rare species that comes out to feed during the day, so you might find one feeding in a calm lagoon. They eat sponges that are toxic to most other animals. When the nudibranch eats the sponge it absorbs the toxins so predators won’t eat it. That would be like us eating a poisonous mushroom so we would become toxic so a top predator like a saltwater crocodile would never eat us!

Nudibranchs are a type of dorid sea slug, and that name came from Greek mythology. Dorid is a sea nymph or divine ocean spirit. In Hawai‘i, the nudibranchs do not have Hawaiian names because they were never collected for food or medicine.

It is really a treat to see one of these soft, frilly creatures when out snorkeling, and I have met divers who have spent over $200,000 to travel around the world to just take pictures of nudibranchs!

You can see the clumpy nudibranch in action on my underwater educational web page, underwater2web.com. Go to the marine-life-identification link and you can see all of the different nudibranch species that call Hawai‘i home.

•••

Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei and co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawaii go to www.reefguardianshawaii.org.

0 Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, send us an email.