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NUDIBRANCHS

Underwater photography: images of nudibranchs taken while scuba diving
Phylum: Mollusca | Class: Gastropoda | Order: Nudibranchia

No matter where you dive – how grey the habitat, high the sea or low the visibility – it seems that if you look closely enough, you'll spot a small gaudy creature brightening up the vista. Nudibranchs are often referred to as 'butterflies of the sea' as their irridescent colours and bizarre patterns liven up almost any dive.

Part of the mollusc phylum, nudibranchs are actually sea slugs and yes, pretty closely related to the nasty garden version. Their life cycles are short – just a month or two – despite all those bright colours and patterns indicating how poisonous they are to other species. All the same crabs, seastars and some fish will still nibble on them although mostly at the planktonic stage.

Some are less colourful but have adapted to mimic parts of the reef like soft corals and hydroids while others will disguise themslves by hosting smaller creatures like the solar powered nudi with his algae spotted body. Nudibranchs are hermaphrodites but still require a friend to reproduce. They extend a special tube from their side, exchange sperm sacs then crawl off to lay a lacy egg ring.

Spanish dancers and sea hares are closly related to the nudbranch group, as are flatworms. All have similar lifestyles, although flatworms and Spanish dancers both do that marvellous flamenco dance if you are lucky enough to spot them on the move at night. The largest Nudibranch in teh ses is thought to be the Djibouti Spanish Dancer, which ican bee seem quite often, and in dayight, around Mnemba Atoll, Zanzibar.

Is it a new Nudibranch?
When we were in Southern Raja Ampat last year, we snapped this rather pretty nudibranch. He sat languishing in the pile of images until we tried to identify him a few weeks ago. With help from all four corners of the world, it seems we may have stumbled on an undescribed Marionia species.

We loaded the image on Facebook and got replies from many friends, then Annabel Thomas at AquaMarine Diving in Bali forwarded the link to nudi-gurus Ivan Choong in Singapore, Neville Coleman in Australia and Mike Miller in the USA. All these agree it's definitely a Marionia and Mike has sent the image up to Terry Goslinger at the California Academy of Sciences for verification. Many thanks to you all!

Mike Miller slugsite.us | Neville Coleman nevillecoleman.com.au | Ivan Choong DiveBooks.Net

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