CAR­NI­VAL CREA­TURES

On your next sea­side hol­i­day, a minia­ture world of magic awaits – if you know where to look, says HE­LEN WALNE

Getaway (South Africa) - - ESCAPE NATURE -

Slugs. What in­vari­ably springs to mind are chubby, dull, slimy crea­tures gnaw­ing at newly planted let­tuces or trail­ing their way down doors. But in the ocean, sea slugs – or nudi­branchs – are some of the most colour­ful, flam­boy­ant an­i­mals on Earth and have gar­nered fans around the world – Cal­i­for­ni­ans even cel­e­brate In­ter­na­tional Nudi­branch Day on 29 Oc­to­ber.

Some nudi­branchs re­sem­ble psy­che­delic sheep; oth­ers Rio Car­ni­val dancers. There are frilly ones, crys­talline ones, shaggy ones and oth­ers that would give Lady Gaga a run for her money. Nudi­branchs (pro­nounced ‘noodi branks’) are found in seas all over the globe, from Scot­land to

São Tomé, from Ice­land to In­done­sia. The name is de­rived from the Latin nudus (naked) and Greek brankhia (gills), due to the slug’s lack of a shell (un­like other ma­rine gas­tro­pod mol­luscs) and the gills be­ing found in a rosette on the out­side of the body.

It’s es­ti­mated there are about 500 species in SA, with this fig­ure ex­pected to grow as pre­vi­ously undis­cov­ered or uniden­ti­fied ones turn up. Nudi­branchs are found at depth, but also in shal­low wa­ter, on reefs and even in tidal pools, which means you don’t have to be Aqua­man to spot them. All you need is a mask and snorkel and a pair of ea­gle eyes, as many are just a few mil­lime­tres long.

NUDI-HUNT­ING TIPS

• Take it slowly. Most are tiny, so thor­oughly scan­ning just a small area (the wall of a tidal pool) may de­liver re­sults.

• Get to know their diet. Many nudi­branchs are very spe­cific about what they eat, so fa­mil­iarise your­self with the dif­fer­ent food sources.

• Look out for their eggs. You’ll of­ten find a nudi near an elon­gated egg rib­bon (pic­tured be­low, a fiery nudi­branch lay­ing eggs).

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