It’s like hitting the jackpot if you’re a “fish-nerd kind of guy,” says self-described fish nerd Lee Newman, the Vancouver Aquarium’s tropical waters curator. He’s referring to coming across an undescribed (by science) species in one of his behind-the-scenes aquariums – this one happens to be a type of nudibranch.
A nudibranch (pronounced newdy-brank) is a kind of sea slug. Its Latin-Greek name means “naked gills,” which makes sense because most nudibranchs lack a protective shell, exposing their gills to the elements. The yellow and white projections (called cerata) on this undescribed nudibranch’s back are its naked gills. Two horn-like projections on its head (called rhinophores) are used to taste and smell.
Lee couldn’t immediately identify this nudibranch so he asked an “authority” on nudibranchs who was able to tell him that this particular sea slug belongs to the genus Phyllodesmium – but it doesn’t have a species name or common name. For now, it’s been nicknamed the “candy corn” nudibranch for its cerata’s resemblance to the yellow, orange and white-striped Halloween candy. Stretched out, it’s about the length of a paper clip.
Lee says it’s exciting to come across an undescribed species (which must have hitched a ride on a rock), but he’s not at all surprised. He says that’s because coral reefs are by and large inaccessible, complex and rich in species diversity, so new discoveries are bound to be made.
As for this new Aquarium resident, Lee says they’ll be keeping a close eye on it as they continue to experiment with a feeding regimen.
Watch it below and notice that apart from its rhinophores, it also has two other sensory projections called “oral tentacles” sticking out from its head.