Nudibranchia, commonly known as Nudibranch or also as a sea slug, is a type of marine gastropod. The word “Nudibranchia,” which literally translates to “bare gills,” refers to the delicate gills and spikes that the majority of them have on their back sides. Although Nudibranchs have a radula feeding mechanism, they typically don’t have the shell, gills, or mantle chamber found in other mollusks.
The exquisitely colored body features strange protrusions called cerata that act as nematocyst dischargers for defense. The number of Nudibranch species is around 2,000, and more are constantly being discovered. Although they are present in all of the oceans of the world, shallower, tropical areas are where they are most common.
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Nudibranchs can grow up to 16 inches long and are typically oblong in appearance, although they can also be thick or flattened, either long or short, intricately colored or dull to blend in with their environment. Nudibranchs’ asymmetrical beginnings are reflected by the location of the male and female genital apertures, which are on the right side of the body.
Credit: Elias Levy
To ward against predators, certain Nudibranchs have venomous appendages on their flanks. Many also have a straightforward stomach and a radulated mouth. Nudibranchs have basic eyes that can only distinguish between darkness and light. Its eyes are embedded in the body, have a lens and five photoreceptors, and measure about a quarter of a millimeter in diameter.
All known Nudibranchs are carnivorous. They have two extremely sensitive tentacles on top of their heads called rhinophores that are used to detect prey. The food that nudibranchs consume gives them their color, which aids in camouflage. Some Nudibranchs feed on sponges, others on hydroids, others on bryozoans, and some eat other sea slugs or their eggs. On some occasions, Nudibranchs are cannibals and will prey on members of their own species. Other groups feed on tunicates, barnacles, and anemones. All in all, the diet can be highly specific depending on the Nudibranch species.
Nudibranchs are benthic invertebrates that crawl across the substrate. They can be found in oceans all over the globe, from the Arctic to the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. Nudibranchs can also be found in warm and tropical waters. While a few kinds of Nudibranch have been found to live in salt water at lower salt concentrations, they are virtually totally limited to salt water.
Credit: Elias Levy
Nudibranchs can be found living almost anywhere, from the littoral zone to depths of more than 2,300 ft. The largest variety of nudibranchs can be found in warm, shallow reefs, while one species was found at a depth near 8,000 ft.
Despite having reproductive systems for both sexes due to their hermaphroditic nature, Nudibranchs are unable to procreate by themselves. The wooing phase of mating often lasts a few minutes and features dancing. Normally, Nudibranchs encase their eggs in a viscous helix, which is commonly described as resembling a ribbon.
Depending on the species of Nudibranch, there may be just one or two eggs or as many as a few million. To ward off predators, the eggs are filled with marine sponge toxins. The young, though lesser, resemble their adult counterparts virtually exactly after spawning. Cerata may also be less common in infants. Depending on the species, Nudibranchs can live anywhere from a few weeks to an entire year.
Because they lack a shell, Nudibranchs are more vulnerable to predators. However, over the course of a long period of adaptation, they have developed several defenses, including acid secretion, which can be produced by either self-production or by consuming something that carries poisons, and camouflage, which renders them impervious to many predators.
Credit: Elias Levy
They still face some competition from marine spiders and other Opisthobranchia. The majority of Nudibranch species are not at risk. However, because so many rely on coral reefs for their habitat, they are extremely dependent on their survival. Nudibranchs are not immune to dangers due to the effects of climate change, such as coral bleaching and human damage to reef habitats worldwide. Certainly, there are species all around the world that are at risk.
Facts about the Nudibranch
- Nudibranchs come in more than 3000 different species.
- Nudibranchs can give up a portion of their bodies to protect their nucleus.
- Nudibranchs have acute detector tentacles called rhinophores.
- Nudibranchs carry out photosynthesis by ingesting the algae’s chloroplast.
- Nudibranchs use a toothed structure called a radula to feed.
What happens if you touch a Nudibranch?
Nudibranch sea slugs are known to carry venom in the form of acid ejections. The best policy is to look and not touch. In the case of contact with a Nudibranch that results in a sting, severe pain can be expected. However, it won’t be fatal.
How do Nudibranchs sting?
Numerous nudibranchs consume anemones, coral, jellyfish, or hydroids, all of which possess stinging nematocysts. When contacted, these particular cells release a poisonous projectile that looks like a spear that carries the venom.
Can Nudibranchs survive out of water?
Nudibranchs typically hang out around their prey, such as sea anemones, sponges, and other creatures that will also perish should they become dried. Nudibranchs are typically protected from being taken out of the water because their food can only thrive in damp places.
How do Nudibranchs communicate?
The Nudibranch can detect its prey or other Nudibranchs thanks to olfactory sensors in a pair of tentacles on its head called rhinophores. Most Nudibranchs have the capacity to retract their rhinophores and conceal them in a cavity in their skin if they detect a hazard since the rhinophores protrude out and are a lure for hungry fish.