These Are A Few Of My Favorite Species: Gasflame Nudibranch

Photo by Graeme Kruger on Flickr (CC) Gas Flame Nudibranch Castle Rock Dive, False Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. Bonisa nakaza

About 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous, a group of snails took a new evolutionary route, one that eventually resulted in a complete loss of the most defining characteristic of a snail—the shell. These shelless snails eventually acquire another set of traits and now the most colorful displays on the planet occur in this peculiar set of organisms.   Among the nudibranchs, one species in particular stands out from the rest for me. The gasflame nudibranch, Bonisa nakaza, is aptly named because its coloration so closely resembles an open gas flame.

Photo by BearOnATrike on Flickr (CC)

Photo by BearOnATrike on Flickr (CC)

The striking color occurs on the cerata, those appendages across the back of the gasflame nudibranch that look like individual flames. But it is not only the color of the cerata that make this nudibranch unique. The cerata both aid in respiration and often have an outgrowth of the digestive gland that extends to their tips. Imagine your arms aiding in breathing and your stomach extending to your fingertips. Yet Bonisa nakaza is different. It is the only species in its genus and differs from all its close relatives in the same family because of the fact its digestive gland does not extend into the cerata.

Look at those lovely yellow rhinophores: Photo by Graeme Kruger on Flickr (CC) Gas Flame Nudibranch Castle Rock Dive, False Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. Bonisa nakaza

From Wikimedia Commons.

From Wikimedia Commons.

Besides the cerata, gasflame nudibranchs also have spectacular rhinophores. Which is not something I say about all nudibranchs. As the “rhino” would suggest these are sensory organs on the head used for chemoreception. In the family that contains gasflames, the rhinophores are particularly “fuzzy” allowing for more surface area for this reception to occur on.

Even more rhinophores.  From Wikimedia Commons (CC)

Even more rhinophores. From Wikimedia Commons (CC)

I am also fond of the scientific name. The species was described not so long ago in 1981 by Gosliner. In the ultimate act of love for a taxonomist, he named the genus Bosnia for his wife Bonnie Isabel.   Nakaza means “to adorn with beautiful colors” from the Zulu, the largest ethnic group in South Africa where the species is found. However, the gasflame nudibranch is only found of the southern most Southern African.

Like all nudibranchs, gasflame nudibranchs are hermaphrodites.  Here are two making sweet, sweet love.  The coloration can vary considerably from the

Like all nudibranchs, gasflame nudibranchs are hermaphrodites. Here are two making sweet, sweet love. The coloration can vary considerably from the more gasflame color to white with orange tips.

Eggs ribbons of the gaseflame nudibranch.  Holy @#$! even these are beautiful.

Eggs ribbons of the gaseflame nudibranch. Holy @#$! even these are beautiful. From Wikimedia Commons (CC).

Dr. M (1800 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.


3 Replies to “These Are A Few Of My Favorite Species: Gasflame Nudibranch”

  1. Interesting article and a beautiful creature, but I think the spellchecker has ambushed you in the final paragraph, turning Bonisa into Bosnia…

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