Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Nudibranchs

"Opalescent nudibranch," PNW's most common nudibranch
photo by Minette Layne 
Oh, who doesn't love nudibranchs? I'd have to guess only people who haven't yet heard of these little sea creatures. 

Nudibranchs (pronounced "nudie-branks") are also called sea slugs--a name that doesn't do them justice. These little beasties are usually about 1" to 4" long, and you can find them in tidepools, eelgrass beds, mudflats, estuaries, and other shallow water near shore.

photo by Minette Layne
They come in many colors--like lemon yellow, orange-red, rosy pink--and have wildly fanciful shapes. Sensory tentacles called rhinophores at the front or back of the animal can be conical, feathery plumes or spires. They might have a circular tuft of gills at the back end, or be entirely covered with projections called cerata.

Those cerata have a several functions, including defense. When they eat anemones, nudibranches aren't harmed by their stinging cells. They just gobble up those nemoatocysts along with the rest of the animal; the stinging cells are then sorted inside the nudibranch's body and migrate into the cerata. The sea slug thus becomes armed with the weapons of its prey.

photo by Minette Layne

photo by Minette Layne

Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites (each individual has both male and female sex organs). Some species are male when young and become female as they grow older. but most species are both genders simultaneously. 

When two nudibranchs mate, each usually gives and receives sperm. Later, each will lay eggs in coils or rippling curtainlike masses, depending on the species.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, over 170 species of nudibranchs have been described. And luckily for us, a photographer named Minette Layne has captures several of them in photos, and generously shares the images via Creative Commons license on Flickr. 

How about you? Have you made acquaintance with nudibranchs? (And doncha just love them?)  

photo by Minette Layne
photo by Minette Layne

photo by Minette Layne

9 comments:

  1. Nudibranchs are my all-time favorite rock stars of the tidepools. When I studied marine biology for the summer at the U of O station in Charleston, Oregon (near Coos Bay), I fell in love with these beautiful and wildly diverse mollusks. The students kept some lovely marine aquaria in the lab, and a few of us populated one with as many nudibranchs as we could catch. They got more rave reviews than even the octopus--until she laid a bunch of eggs.

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  2. Aquatic slugs with ruffles and fringe - way cool!

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  3. These little nudies are gorgeous! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Colorful sea slugs are everywhere!Extraordinarily amazing and the most plentiful creature of the abysmal plain, otherwise known as the ocean floor. Some use the full moon and the earths magnetic field to navigate, others can utilize chlorophyll the same way plants do and get energy simply by sunbathing. Aside from being green that would be an easy way to beat the ever rising grocery store prices.

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  5. Highly underrated, most plentiful animal of the ocean and sea floors. Some can navigate by the full moon and Earth's magnetic field. Others can absorb or possibly even make their own chlorophyll and use it to create energy without eating any real food. Studied extensively as a medical resource and also as a primer as to how big animals like us work internally. Some can even fly like a butterfly.
    It is probably not advisable to eat them as everything they eat is seasoned by everything we throw away on the land.

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  6. This is my first exposure to the nudis. What magical little creatures. Such pretty cleansing machines.

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  7. They are rather cute! I have never seen one!! You can always take me and show me!

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