The Stylish Nudibranch

the nembrotha-kubaryana

No, I didn’t make it up. A nudibranch is a toxic seagoing slug that is protected by its brilliant design. Nature is of course the original style maven and the nudibranch has it in spades! Found in both warm and cold waters, from shallows and reefs to nearly a mile down, they are merely skin, muscle and organs with gills resembling tufts on their backs (Nudibranch means “naked gill,” a feature that separates them from other sea slugs.)

Halgerda batangas

They defend themselves with toxic secretions and stinging cells. Their incredible coloration make them very visible which warns their predators of their dangers. Yet they cannot see their own beauty, their vision seeing only light and dark. They sense the world through appendages on their heads.

Chromodoris annae

They are of interest not only for their incredible natural beauty but because their simple nervous systems provide clues to learning and memory as well as being an “indicator species” showing the health of their environment. Nudibranchs have medical significance because the toxic compounds in the creatures they eat are powerful chemical agents that can deter the growth of cancer cells. Finding drugs through marine invertebrates is not a new concept and be traced back as far as Pliny the Elder who mixed ground snails with honey to treat “ulcerations of the head”.

Mexichromis mariei

Nudibranchs know how to look good while they ward off their enemies – they even sport this season’s latest color – honeysuckle pink.

So while scientists are isolating chemicals from these creatures to hopefully help human disorders, we can admire their exceptional sense of style.

all photographs by David Doubilet

40 thoughts on “The Stylish Nudibranch

  1. For some reason they look like a soft spongy candy to me.
    This was like a brief announcement from the Natural Channel. A nice
    break from paint colors and new fabrics. So interesting.

    • Hi Jane – Anything with style is fodder for a post here! Found this so interesting and beautiful!

    • Hi Sherry – Aren’t they beautiful?! And so interesting that they supply medical potential. I do alumni interviewing for college and I interviewed a girl last year who did an internship with a professor in Hawaii who was researching this topic!

  2. I love this. After the “cork article”, I am going to knock the socks of my random fact filled son! Wonderful colors and wonderful information. Amazing that these slugs are being used in scientific investigation.

    • Hi Mary – My pleasure – I thought it would be nice to show something with style and substance a little out of the box!

    • Hi Marsha – It’s just so amazing that these creatures actually exist as they are pictured – nature’s beauty indeed.

    • Hi Dawn – Aren’t they just amazing – you wouldn’t believe they were real if you didn’t know!

    • Hi Barbara – Thanks – and yes, we want to do everything possible to protect these beautiful and valuable creatures!

  3. In bloggy land, when the words toxic & beautiful are paired with great potential they are usually referring to the design or beauty industry, not science!
    Good for you for writing the most interesting post I’ve read all day!
    Now I get to go empress my kids. Thanks a million!
    So great to have found you we have some really wonderful bloggy friends in common!
    Best, Lisa

    • Hi Lisa- thank you!! So glad you found your way here – I’m sure via mutual friends in our amazing blogosphere!

    • Hi Teresa – Thank you!! I”m so glad you found these amazing sea creatures interesting as well!

  4. Ok, I am sure you are probably one of the only other bloggers that would post about nudibranches being stylish…I have a ton of nudibranch images saved and have been planning on doing a post about them for awhile now. Aren’t they just so magnificent and colorful??? My son plans on being either an entomologist or marine biologist when he grows up…both he and I border on obsession over insects, spiders and marine life! As soon as I get to post, I’ll definitely forward it to you because it is so lovely to know someone else who finds these creatures stylish. Awesome post!!!!

    • HI Danielle – Oh how funny! Both my college roommate and boyfriend were marine biology majors – my roommate is now a doctor (after receiving her masters in zoology from Duke) and the boyfriend is now a professor at McGill and evidently the North American expert on salmon! My son wanted to be a vet forever but changed his mind in high school and is now applying to law school! My sister-in-law, who has done a lot of scuba diving, wrote me after reading this post, to say that she saw many of these when they dove in Fiji and because they are so slow moving are excellent to photograph!

      • That is so funny! I am thinking my son will definitely stick with something Science related because of his serious interest in creatures. It was sparked by an explosion we had here of cicadas…they were everywhere and my son at age 3 was obsessed. We had to eat with them, play with them and yes even sleep with them. I remember one day waking up to cicadas crawling up my torso, luckily I love insects as well. I have insect prints all over my home…I love it! Have a wonderful week!!

    • Poppy – thank you!! I’m truly flattered! I’m interested in the style and substance of it all!

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