Pictured “knitting” a doily-like egg mass in a lab in 2008, a new species of fiery-colored nudibranch, or sea slug, has been found in shallow tide pools near a southern California campground, a new study says.
Marine biologist Jeff Goddard stumbled across the carnivorous 1.2-inch (3-centimeter) creatureâ€”later dubbed Flabellina goddardiâ€”while searching for another sea slug in Carpinteria State Park (map) in 2008. Not long afterward, in the lab, the hermaphroditic critter laid a lacy egg mass, which hatched into tiny, snail-like babies.
“That was a treat,” said Goddard, of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Instituteâ€”though not necessarily a surprise.
Sea slugs are often transparentâ€””you can see the gonads through the body,” for exampleâ€”and Goddard knew the animal was expecting. (See pictures of colorful sea slugs in National Geographic magazine.)
The elaborate latticework of the egg mass is a “trick of arrangement” to make sure all the embryos get enough oxygen, he added. “That whole string is packed with thousands of egg capsules.”
Finding a new slug “right there under our noses” is a reminder that “there are still many species, especially in the oceansâ€”even ones in our backyardâ€”that haven’t been described,” he said. (See a picture of a bug-eating sea slug found recently in Thailand.)
Plus, they’re just plain stunning: “People are interested in butterflies and birds and brightly colored [animals],” he said. “This is the marine equivalent of butterflies.”