NUDI GILL PIN-UP: Melibe leonina

Is everyone enjoying their summer? The summer months always make me think of picnics and pool parties and what would either of those be without a fresh watermelon to share? And hey, did you know that there’s a nudibranch that smells like watermelons? Okay, I know that’s a weird lead into this month’s NUDI GILL PIN-UP, but you’ve got to check these guys out!

Melibe leonina

Chad King / NOAA MBNMS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Jellyfish or Aquatic venus fly trap?

Honestly, if I ever came across these in the wild, that’s what I would think at first. But, low and behold, they are indeed nudibranchs, with specialized hoodies designed specifically for catching prey. Check out the video below to see them in action.

Also known as the Lion’s Mane Nudibranch, the Melibe leonina does not have tiny radula teeth like some other nudibranchs do, so they rely on their large hooded lip, lined with tiny tentacles, to gather food into their mouth. They cast it out like a little built in fishing net.

The growths on its back are actually cerata. Cerata are skin extensions that help the animal breath. What is so interesting about the Melibe leonina, is that it can break away a cerata if it feels threatened, much like how a lizard will shed its tail. This behavior of self-amputation it known as autotomy.

AND THE WATERMELON THING?

Melibe leonina makes chemicals in its body called terpenoids. The terpenoids are secreted through glands on the nudibranch’s back in the form of a delicate slime. This slime helps to repel potential predators, but also happens to smell like a watermelon jolly rancher.

Melibe leonina nudibranch feeding by opening the oral hood to trap prey. Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, San Pedro, California. Tentaculata, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

FUN FACT: A cluster of Melibe leoninas is called a bouquet.

Awww, What a lovely bouquet! Smells like watermelon.

The next time you sink your teeth into a juicy slice of watermelon, I hope you will think fondly of June’s sweet NUDI GILL PIN-UP, Melibe leonina. Stay tuned for July’s spectacular firecracker of a supermodel.

Bonnie


Bonnie Kelso writes and illustrates books for children and adults that encourage individualism and brave self-expression. She facilitates art workshops for her local community and beyond. Her debut picture book, NUDI GILL, releases in March, 2023. A lover of nature and travel, she often wanders about outside with her family whenever an excellent opportunity to do so presents itself.

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