It’s been a week now since I swapped my wetsuit for my oversized khaki shirt and got back down to the serious business of safari. Life is tough. Weeble.
I’m already missing Thonga Beach Lodge and its perfect stretch of coast, cool-as-a-sea-cucumber people, Samango monkeys, mac and cheese, Thonga Iced Tea cocktails, storms of breaching humpback whales and of course, nudibranchs.
Nudis. I don’t know what it is about them, but they ooze themselves right down into your soul.
A nudibranch is a type of sea slug, but ‘sea slug’ sounds too drab to describe these colorful little… sluggy… slugs. Nudis get their name by mixing up the Latin for ‘naked’ and the Greek for ‘gills’ because unlike ordinary sea slugs, nudis wear their lungs on the outside for all to see. Naked. Hot.
It gets better. The tentacles that separate them from sea slugs have a great name: rhinophores.
In love yet? Let me keep trying.
Some species are poisonous on their own (hence the overly dramatic coloration), but other species obtain their poison secondhand by eating things like jellyfish and bluebottles. That would be like me growing defensive horns if I ate a kudu or gaining the ability to change colour if I ate the right kind of frog. Or just turning bright purple if I ate a blueberry. Because I’m a vegetarian. And I would never eat a frog. Or maybe I would if it meant I could change colour. Would I eat a frog for the free chromatophores? I just might.
Nudis are also really hard to find if you’re not a proper diver. Most of our 300 species prefer coral reefs to rocky ones, so a humble snorkeller like me isn’t so likely to find one.
Unless they’re really big. And luckily, some nudis are.
On this last trip to Thonga I was lucky enough to get right up into the face of one of the world’s largest nudibranchs – the Spanish Dancer (Hexabranchus sanguineus).
I was just about to get out of the water after a long snorkel when something orange caught my eye. I freaked out, making noises you can only make into a snorkel. Had I seen a shark swimming over to taste my leg or a honeycomb moray had grabbed my arm, I would have made less noise.
I watched the normally nocturnal nudi crawling over a patch of short kelp before it suddenly launched itself off the ledge and into the open water.
I screamed again. Who knew they could do that? And shouldn’t it be sleeping?
I followed the nudi into open water watching it propel itself with its frills (there’s got to be a technical term for that somewhere…). And if a nudibranch isn’t mesmerizing enough, try watching one swim.
And thanks to my nifty new camera, I got to document the moment. The moment of the decade. Surely.
Go to the beach. Go to Thonga. Just do it. Do it for the food and the cocktails and the snorkeling and the backgammon and the sand in your hair. Do it for the nudis.
Bonus photos (or why you just really really need to go to the beach right now)
And I close with this: an ‘evil eye pufferfish.’ One of the most poisonous animals on earth. So much drama!