Shelled Sea Slug! A small mystery solved.
Here’s a bit of a mystery that took me more than a year to sort out.
On April 27th, 2016, I found this egg mass while diving in Browning Pass with God’s Pocket Resort. This is to the north of where I live and is somewhere I only have the joy of diving a couple of times a year.
I recognized it was likely a sea slug egg mass but did not know the species.
More than a year passed. On May 7th, 2017, I had a chance to dive the same site again and so hoped to find the species who laid the eggs. We quickly swam to where I had found the egg mass the year prior, into the shallows (~5m), and hovered over the ocean bottom strewn with bits of shell remains.
And I found these . . .
Tiny snail-like animals, plowing through the bits of shell and urchin remains. One, two, three . . . six of them!
I tried to calm myself down, to get photos, and to watch how, despite their soft bodies and the sharp bits of shell, they were able to even push under the surface.
They were Stripe Barrel Shells (Rictaxis punctocaelatus) with shells only to 2 cm long)!
These are often mistaken as being a marine snail (prosobranch) like a whelk but they are a type of “bubble shell” sea slug. They are also not nudibranchs. They have a thin shell and do not have “naked gills”. Therefore they do not belong in the “nudibranch” sub-group of sea slugs (opisthobranchs). For the classification super nerds, see this link or the graphic at the end of this blog for my attempt at offering clarity.
Please know that I am not suggesting that this is a rare species. Rather, they are hard to find. Their size makes them hard to see; divers often do not target the sand or shell-covered bottoms where they live; AND . . . . they are often just under the surface.
I was incredibly fortunate therefore to find them out and about – maybe feeding on algae and/or trying to smell where a mate might be (and we think WE’RE challenged in finding a partner!)
And how about those eggs? Are they a match?
Yes, they are! I was able to confirm this thanks to the knowledge and brilliant documentation of Jeff Goddard on the Sea Slug Forum (see below).
Another little mystery solved.
Another big influx of wonder about the life in the NE Pacific Ocean! 🙂
For an additional blog about another bubble shell sea slug in the NE Pacific Ocean see – “Slugs that Fly? The Great Winged Sea Slug”