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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Sea Things #29: Spanish Dancers

Sea Things is a regular feature on my blog where I profile a different sea creature. Look for it weekly, or something close to weekly.

It was on our second night dive in Hawaii that we got a chance to see Spanish Dancers. They were one of the creatures that I was most looking forward to seeing on our trip. Their scientific name is Hexabranchus sanguineus, and they are the largest Nudibranch found in Hawaii, and one of the largest in the world. Indeed, the one above was about the size of my hand. Compare that to the size of the other Nudibranch I've featured on Sea Things (the White-Speckled Nudibranch), and you will see these are fairly big guys.

Often, Spanish Dancers will crawl along the reef, eating sponges & soft corals. It will also swim, and when it does it will unfurl the curled edges that you see in the photo above. These are called parapodia, and with these edges unfurled, it is truly a sight to see (no, we didn't get to see this in Hawaii). This is how the Spanish Dancer gets its name.

Often, Spanish Dancers will have a small shrimp, called the Emperor Shrimp, that live on top. Of the 2 or 3 Spanish Dancers that we saw in Hawaii on this dive, I spotted Emperor Shrimp on at least one. Sadly, Todd was not set up to take photos of them, but hopefully we will get some great pictures of Emperor Shrimp on our next trip to the Pacific (coming up in 2011).

The photo above that looks like a rose is the Spanish Dancer's eggs. While we didn't see any more Spanish Dancers after the second night dive of the trip, we did see its eggs several times. They lay their eggs in a beautiful pattern that really looks like a tissue paper rose attached to the reef. Other Nudibranchs will sometimes eat these eggs, but we didn't spot this happening on our trip.

Spanish Dancers are found in the Pacific, Indo-Pacific, and Red Sea. The "fluffy" part on the front of them are their gills, and they are nocturnal. The dive signal for them is the same as for any Nudibranch - wiggling your index finger. We hope to see more on later trips and get better photographs. They really are beautiful creatures!

Is there a creature that you would like to see featured in Sea Things? If so, shoot me an email and if I can, I'll write about it. Photos on this post are courtesy of Todd Krebs.

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