UN­DER­WA­TER JEW­ELS

Scuba Diver Australasia + Ocean Planet - - Iconic -

Though small in size, the nudi­branch has made a pretty big name for it­self. Noth­ing but a mere sea slug, this lit­tle crea­ture has cap­tured the hearts and cam­eras of divers around the world with its in­cred­i­ble di­ver­sity. To date, there are more than 3,000 known species of nudi­branch, each with a unique pat­tern, coloura­tion, and shape, at­tract­ing the in­ter­ests of ex­pert un­der­wa­ter photographers world­wide.

You may think that the nudi­branch would make an easy pho­to­graphic sub­ject, given its slow na­ture and vi­brant colours, but this lit­tle slug has been a chal­lenge to cap­ture for even the best un­der­wa­ter photographers. It’s tiny size and habi­tat choice of sand and muck pose a chal­lenge for photographers who wish to cap­ture their strik­ing fea­tures.

Apart from their show-stop­ping ap­pear­ance, nudi­branchs also have some in­ter­est­ing traits.

Some are so­lar-pow­ered, liv­ing off the sug­ars pro­duced by the pho­to­syn­the­sis­ing al­gae stored in their outer tis­sues. Oth­ers can emit chem­i­cal odours to de­ter preda­tors, with the ae­olid nudi­branchs even pos­sess­ing the abil­ity to sting preda­tors with the stored ne­ma­to­cysts of pre­vi­ously-en­coun­tered preda­tors.

While it may be tempt­ing to keep th­ese beau­ties in an aquar­ium, this is strongly ad­vised against – nudi­branchs are ex­tremely sen­si­tive crea­tures that live in spe­cialised en­vi­ron­ments in the sea. As car­ni­vores, they have spe­cific di­ets and re­quire mi­cro-con­di­tions that an aquar­ium can­not repli­cate. Con­fined nudi­branchs of­ten lose their form and colour, and the tox­ins re­leased af­ter death would harm the other aquar­ium res­i­dents.

Un­for­tu­nately, nudi­branchs don’t live for very long, with most sur­viv­ing no longer than a cou­ple of months. To en­sure the pro­lif­er­a­tion of their kind, nudi­branchs are si­mul­ta­ne­ously hermaphrodite and can mate with any other nudi­branch of the same species. Dur­ing mat­ing, both in­di­vid­u­als func­tion as male and fe­male, si­mul­ta­ne­ously giv­ing and re­ceiv­ing sperm and eggs.

You can find nudi­branchs al­most any­where in the world – one species was even spot­ted at the North Pole – though they are most com­mon in warm, trop­i­cal wa­ters. Given the ex­tra­or­di­nary forms and fea­tures of nudi­branchs, it is no won­der th­ese tiny jew­els have be­come iconic crit­ters of the ocean.

ABOVE A semi-translu­cent, yet very colour­ful, gold lace nudi­branch atop a coral head on a reef off the west coast of Guam

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