The flameback is a species of brightly colored sea slug (nudibranch), native to the west coast of South America. Like in most sea slugs, the bright coloration is a warning to potential predators that it is bad tasting and potentially even poisonous to some animals. The flameback is carnivorous, eating soft corals and other sessile invertebrates on rocky reefs. Like most nudibranchs, this species incorporates toxic chemicals or stinging cells from its prey into its own skin. This ability provides the flameback with a defense mechanism against predation.
The bright orange, white-tipped structures along the flameback’s dorsal surface are called cerata and increase the surface area of the skin. This nudibranch absorbs oxygen through its skin, so increased surface area aids in respiration. The cerata also increase the number of defense cells that the flameback can store from its prey. The flameback, like all nudibranchs, is simultaneously hermaphroditic – each individual produces both eggs and sperm. An individual cannot fertilize its own eggs, however, and pairs still must mate. They reproduce via internal fertilization and lay eggs, which they stick to the reef surface or other hard substrates. The long strings of eggs are often spiral shaped. Neither parent cares for or guards the eggs.
Like most small marine invertebrates, little is known about the conservation status of the flameback, but this species has a relatively small home range. Therefore, any significant changes to the rocky reef ecosystems in its range or general threats to the marine environment could risk this naturally rare species.
Oceana joined forces with Sailors for the Sea, an ocean conservation organization dedicated to educating and engaging the world’s boating community. Sailors for the Sea developed the KELP (Kids Environmental Lesson Plans) program to create the next generation of ocean stewards. Click here or below to download hands-on marine science activities for kids.