New Footage of Bizarre, 13-Legged Sea Slug Released



In a spineless world that often makes no sense, the only elemental rule of marine invertebrates is that nudibranchs are always strange-looking. And this new footage of a frilly, ghostly white sea slug, taken by a tourist in Bali, is no exception to that rule.

Filmed at a dive site on the north coast of Bali named Puri Jati last month by diver Emeric Benhalassa, the creature looks pretty content to just cruise around the ocean floor, scouting for prey and enveloping it with that transparent balloon head.

Meet the carnivorous sea slug that uses its huge, gelatinous head as a fishing net to catch its prey, while floating around on 13 leg-like appendages that altogether make it look like the best straight-outta-sci-fi creature we’ve seen in a good while.

The creature in question is Melibe viridis, an inexplicably shaped nudibranch that lives in the tropical Indo-Pacific.

Melibe stands out among sea slugs — which, among such a bizarre selection, is a feat in itself — for its strange feeding habits. It feeds with something called a fish net, which looks like a veil-like balloon on one end of its body. So to eat, all Melibe needs to do is inflate its fish net and vacuum substrate along the seafloor, sucking in tiny crustaceans and swallowing them as the bubble-like contraption deflates. Sea slugs can grow to over 12cm in length, but their most fascinating attribute is the way they feed.

It kind of looks like a jelly-like, vaguely thorny venus flytrap that chews up sand.

Predatory Nudibranch - Melibe Viridis by ResoKoa

But what’s just as strange as Melibe’s bubble mouth is its series of floret-shaped protrusions that radiate out of its body almost like a ribcage, or a palm leaf. Scientists have no clear explanation for why these sets of extrusions exist, whether they’re arms or antennae or just some kind of stinging decoration.

The only thing that’s for sure is that they’re fancy. They’re also covered in what one photographer described as “very large, conical, unbranched pustules.”

A close relation of Melibe viridisMelibe leonina, or the lion’s mane nudibranch — apparently releases a chemical that makes it smell like watermelon. We’re not sure if that sounds appetizing, intriguing, disturbing or all of the above.

So, there you have it. Another classic case of sea slugs defying absolutely all evolutionary logic, and looking great while doing so.


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December 6, 2016 |

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