Nudibranch means 'naked gills' and these slippery little jewels carry their breathing apparatus on the outside of their body. Whereas you and I have a set of inner breathing balloons, our friend the nudibranch literally wears his on his sleeve (or rather back)! It doesn’t matter if you love the sloping topography of Bohol, the volcanic coastline of Dauin or the sandy bottoms of the Lembeh Strait, the humble nudibranch will pose for you anywhere!
Nudibranchs are clever eaters. Their prey includes, among other things, sponges, anemones, and other nudibranchs. These shell-less molluscs have a penchant for turning toxins into defensive mucus and store the stinging cells they eat in their cerata until needed for defence! Their bright colours warn predators that they would not be a tasty meal.
Underwater photographers the world over would kill to snap bright, delicate gill appendages swaying in the current; front rhinophores standing to attention like feathers in a frost; delicate yellow egg circles being laid by fusia-coloured mothers (or is that fathers?) . Don’t even think of trying to find the elusive Shaun the Sheep without a magnifying glass or super-macro lens! The crème de la crème of the nudi photo is of course a cleaner shrimp or parasite hitching a ride like Aladdin on a Persian carpet. Every year photo pros and wannabes join the Anilao Shootout in Bantangas or the Lembeh Shootout to get the best images of these beautiful critters.
Bright lightening-white Ardeadoris stand out in a sea of muck in Moalboal while dark and gloomy Funeral Jorunna prefer to flaunt their gothic image next to the rainbow colours of the reefs in the Visayas and the Bunaken National Park. The go-faster stripes on a Chromodoris give a false sense of speed in this world of the slow! While 'Pyjama' usually means bed time in our world, in theirs it is time to get psychedelic!
Powder blues and baby pink gastropods rear up like garish mini-pythons as you close in with your strobes primed and ready to flash; Blue Dragons sway from side to side shrugging their tendrils in the open water with ambitions of becoming alien craft; Flabellina curl their back inward like circus acrobats. Phyllidiella pustulosa, Phyllidiopsis, ocellated wart slugs, Nebrotha guttata, - ugly names for such stunningly surreal creatures.
So the next time you go to throw salt on that slippery garden pest the slug, think of his more beautiful brothers and sisters under the sea. Every ugly duckling can dream of becoming a swan right?
All images by Cath Bates
Explore our selection of trips with a focus on muck diving.