Nudibranchs in a Dazzling Array of Colors and Shapes

Nudibranchs in a Dazzling Array of Colors and Shapes - Chromodoris leoparda
Chromodoris leoparda nudibranch
Nudibranchs in a Dazzling Array of Colors and Shapes - Glaucus atlanticus
Glaucus atlanticus nudibranch

The diversity of life on planet Earth is astounding. One of the life forms that most of us are not aware of is the order nudibranchia. Nudibranchs are marine gastropod mollusks that shed their shells after the larval stage. The name “nudibranch” means “naked gills.” They are found worldwide in around 3,000 species, and they can be as small as a thumbtack or as long as 20 inches. Oceans contain nudibranchs in a dazzling array of colors and shapes.

What makes the nudibranchs important is that they help keep in balance some dangerous lifeforms that humans have a hard time handling. Nudibranchs will eat sponges, corals, anemones, jellyfish, and just about any stinging life forms that live in the ocean. There have been times when a species of jellyfish or stinging coral have threatened human use of an area of the ocean, but the nudibranchs have brought these creatures under control.

From the Arctic to the tropics, we find various species of nudibranchs in a dazzling array of colors and shapes, keeping balance in the ocean. However, you might assume they are just sea slugs of no value unless you know what they are. Climate change can alter the ocean’s ecological balance, but nudibranchs help control overpopulations of destructive agents in reefs and estuaries.

Most of the marine world has not yet been explored, and we have much to learn. Humans have done more to explore space than the floor of the ocean. As better technology allows us to travel into deep ocean trenches, underwater volcanoes, and isolated reefs, we will gain more understanding of what God has designed to allow life to exist in all parts of planet Earth.

— John N. Clayton © 2024

Reference: Smithsonian Magazine for April-May 2024, pages 40 -48.

Nudibranch expert Gary Cobb maintains a Facebook group called Nudibranch Central, where you can see more examples of these dazzling creatures.