Have you ever seen a Spanish Dancer?
Why is it called a Spanish Dancer?
The Spanish Dancer gets its name from the way that it swims. It uses the wide edges of its mantle (known as the parapodia) to push through the water in an elegant rippling movement making them look like Spanish flamenco dancers.
The Spanish dancer is the largest species of the nudibranchs reaching upto 60cm in length. Like most nudibranchs, the Spanish dancer is brightly coloured. This makes them easy to spot as they don't blend in well with their surroundings. This bright coloration, similar to that of many other poisonous species, serves as a warning to potential predators that the Spanish dancer does not taste good and may even make a predator ill.
The Spanish Dancer is a hermaphrodite
Like other nudibranchs, Spanish dancers are simultaneous hermaphrodites; all individuals are both male and female. Individuals cannot self fertilise, however, and they always require a mate.
What do they eat?
Spanish dancers are specialised predators that prefer to eat sponges, anemones, corals and even jellyfish! They concentrate toxic compounds found in their prey to provide their own chemical defence and defence for their eggs.
Its relationship with toxins
The Spanish dancer is known for more than just its mesmerising dance. It also has a very interesting strategy to protect its eggs from predators. Once the egg cluster (known as a sea rose) has been created on the reef surface, neither of the parents provides care. Instead, the Spanish Dancer covers the cluster with toxins taken from its venomous food sources. The egg cluster is also brightly coloured in an attempt to warn potential egg predators of its toxic defence.
Where can I find them?
The Spanish Dancer is found throughout the tropical and subtropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region from the eastern coasts of Africa, including the Red Sea, to Hawaii and from South Japan to Australia. It likes rocky and coral reefs with many sponges and shelters from 1 to 50 meters deep.
Though this species spends most of its time crawling along the reef surface, it will swim when threatened, violently flapping its external gills and other appendages and displaying its brightest warning colours.
Population trends in Spanish dancers are currently unknown. However, there is no evidence to suggest that human activities threaten this species. It is important for scientists to continue to study Spanish dancers, though, as this species lives on coral reefs, an ecosystem vulnerable to human-induced change.