Posts in Category: General Slug Things

Slugs on NPR!

Terry Gosliner of the California Academy of Sciences was on NPR’s Science Friday this afternoon, talking about…SEA SLUGS!

Mostly he talked about the northward movement of the Hopkins Rose nudibranch (below), and what that tells us about warming temperatures in the Pacific.

Photo by Gary McDonald, posted on

Of course, he could not help but mention Solar Sea slugs and kleptoplasty.  I mean, who can spend an entire interview talking about a spiky pink abomination when you can talk about green beauties like Elysia?  It was a bit disappointing that he referred to Elysia as a nudibranch (we all know that they are not), and implied that they derived as much benefit from their chloroplasts as corals do from their zooxanthellae.  Nevertheless, any radio show about sea slugs is a good radio show.

More information and audio can be found on the Science Friday web site.

Slugs of Bonaire

I know you have all been eagerly awaiting the most recent slug photos from our trip to Bonaire.  We had hoped to find some of the less common species, such as E. ornata, E. subornata or E. picta, but efforts to find a local expert to help locate suitable habitats were not successful this time around.  Apparently, not everyone is as fascinated by this marvelous genus of slugs as I am. I gave up rather quickly trying to explain that, yes, I know that lettuce slugs (E. crispata) are common on the western side of the island, and no, I am not looking for colorful nudibranchs.  Easier to nod my head enthusiastically.

Nonetheless, there were plenty of E. crispata to be had, which was just marvelous.  Here are a few of the little beauties we found.  One characteristic of the species in the variability in color, and this group shows a little of the spectrum.  The strobe failed early in the trip, but the slugs’ preference for shallow water provided the opportunity for available-light photography.

Below is a pastel green specimen, found at Margate Bay.

Light green E. crispata.  Bonaire.

Light green E. crispata. Bonaire.


These two blue and green fellows were found huddled below a large gorgonian, next to a nice piece of fire coral.  In the shallows of Red Beryl, one of our favorite sites at the south end of the island.

E. crispata and fire coral. Red Beryl, Bonaire

E. crispata and fire coral. Red Beryl, Bonaire


Below is “Tridachiasaurus,” the biggest slug I had ever seen.  Hard to get a sense of scale in the photo, but notice the relative size of her rhinophores (normal sized rhinophores, dwarfed by a large body) and intense ruffling of her parapodia. Photographed at Andrea I, a nice dive site with relatively easy entry and exit.

Huge, ruffly E. crispata.  Bonaire

Huge, ruffly E. crispata. Bonaire

Also at Andrea I, another blue and green specimen, showing the characteristic large, white spots on the midsection.

Blue E. crispata.  Bonaire.

Blue E. crispata. Bonaire.

Here are a few other shots from among the hundreds.  They may not be slugs, but it is my site, so I can post what I like.

Common Octopus, Bonaire

Common Octopus, Bonaire


Green turtle. Dozing on windward side of Bonaire.

Tang Parade!

Tang Parade!


Origin Myth, Part 1

Why does this page even exist?  It started with the guy in the picture below, a Humboldt squid (Dosidicus gigas).  More correctly, this story starts with the lack of them.


In 2012, I was lucky enough to be volunteering as a Visiting Scientist with Ocean Discovery Institute during their annual research/education trips to Bahia de los Angeles in Baja California.  I had traveled to Bahia de los Angeles a few times with my friend and colleague Dr Drew Talley, and had spent about a week in the summer of 2011 with the Ocean Discovery Bahia Program as a Visiting Scientist.  They are an amazing group, and I always come back from visits with them feeling energized about science and education.  In 2012, I agreed to assemble a workshop on a subject in which neurobiology intersects marine biology.  In previous years, the large Humboldt squid had been relatively plentiful, so it seemed like a perfect opportunity to demonstrate for the students the electrical properties of the giant axon and the role it plays in the behavior of the squid.

After many, many hours of preparation, including purchasing a SpikerBox to serve as an amplifier, getting some help from the departmental shop in building a portable, battery-powered stimulator, talking with resident experts about recording giant axons, and trying to think of every contingency that might come up when trying to perform electrophysiology in a remote environment, I was ready to go. So, briefcase full of delicate gear in hand, I headed to San Diego and ultimately Bahia.


It was a perfect plan.  I had thought of and coordinated everything, and we were ready to catch squid.  Drew and I went out with a couple of fishermen to drop jigs and pull up feisty cephalopods.  It was a gorgeous, warm, clear evening, and the water was as smooth as glass.  We stopped at a spot near the island Cabeza de Caballo, enjoyed a group of feeding pelicans and boobies, and learned how to use the jigs to catch squid.  No luck there, so we moved.  No luck.  We very much enjoyed the dolphins below us, illuminated by the bioluminescence, but then Drew asked the Question I Should Have Asked Myself Earlier: “What if there are no squid.”  Had not planned for that one, and yet there were no squid to be had.

I woke up the next morning with about 12 hours to assemble a workshop.  I was lucky that one of the student groups was not working that morning, so we all went out to search for squid substitutes and to discuss a little invertebrate zoology.  Nothing perfect, but among our collection was a pair of Elysia diomedea, about which I knew very little at the time.  So, by late morning, I had one cockroach (a Periplaneta that had been caught in a bathroom the night before), a SpikerBox, two slugs, and a video about cephalopod camouflage from the Hanlon Lab.

In the end, I used the materials I had to introduce the students to the field of Neuroethology, the evolutionary and comparative approach to animal behavior and neural circuitry.  The organization of the workshop may have been a bit rough, but the amazing scenes in the Hanlon video and my enthusiasm for neurobiology and behavior pulled us through.

All this got me thinking.  First, if I am so excited about neurobiology and behavior in a natural context, why am I studying the actions of drugs in a reduced system?  Second, as I learned more about the biology of Elysia diomedea, I started to think that there may be some really interesting neuroethology in there somewhere.

Given that I was on the cusp of a career change, these seemed to be issues to be considered in some depth.  Stay tuned.

Here are the original stars of the show, sitting on a counter in a plastic tub.  Possibly one of the dullest videos on YouTube.