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New Nudibranch Species Found on Bonaire

Long-time Bonaire resident Ellen Muller recently found what may be a never-before-described nudibranch species.  While on a dive last June, Ellen saw what appeared to be some animal, black and white, about the size of grain of rice.  Not sure what she was seeing, she took two quick photographs, thinking it was some sort of crustacean, most likely a shrimp.  However, once she viewed the image on her computer screen, she could easily see it was some sort of mollusk, but she had never before seen anything similar!

So Ellen decided to do some research, and she first turned to Leslie Harris from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. True to form, within an hour, Leslie had identified the unusual animal--well, at least by genus.  Here is an excerpt from Leslie’s email, posted with her permission: “That is a spectacular photo of something you couldn’t even see!  It’s a nudibranch in the genus Trapania - that much I could tell but I didn’t recognize it.  Since my copy of the carib nudi book is at home, I forwarded your pic to Angel Valdes, primary author of the book and our mollusk curator, in hopes of a species id.”

His response - and this is a direct quote - “WOOOOOWWWWW!  OH MY GOD!  WOOOWWWW!  This is so COOOLLLL!!!  It’s a Trapania and it’s completely new.  Totally new.  Never been seen before. WOOOOWWWW!!!!!”

However, the story gets more interesting.  Since her first discovery, Ellen has found six more of these wonderful new creatures, ranging in size from smaller than a grain of rice to about 1/2 inch. [Thanks to husband Erwin for finding the last one!]. In addition, a mating pair of Trapania have been seen several times at Klein Bonaire and were photographed laying eggs. These two are much larger than the others --about one inch long.  So the question becomes:  Is it really so rare?  Or is it just unknown because of its tiny size?

Angel Valdes, Associate Curator of Malacology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, offered this in response:  “I collected in Curaçao and all over the Caribbean before and never saw this species. Considering that these animals have population explosions and then may disappear for years it is critical that we can obtain a few specimens now. I’m afraid that this population will disappear before we have the chance to describe the species. When I became interested in nudibranchs I found a very common species of Trapania in northern Spain that I couldn’t identify and it turned out to be a species described in Naples 100 years ago and never found again. The next year the species was gone and never found again in that area.”

So, all those diving on Bonaire:  Keep your eyes open for black and white grains of rice.  If you find this new Trapania species, note its size, depth, location, and report in to the Bonaire Insider (simply add a comment via the link below).  If you’re carrying a camera, please take pictures.

Trapania eat entoprocts, tiny animals that look like hydroids but have a very different internal body construction. The kamptozoans or entoprocts are the translucent blobs with black dots in the image. (Source:  Ellen Muller, image by Ellen Muller)

Posted by Susan Davis on August 27, 2007 at 9:50am AST

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