Spotted Dorid

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In Central California this is often the most common sea slug around, though this impression may be due to the fact that its orange coloration makes it one of the easiest to find.

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While the body shape is consistent, there are several color forms associated with age: the smallest often appear pure orange, medium individuals (1-1/2 inches long) are dark brown with white spots and large examples (3 inches) are light orange with distinctive white spots.

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This species lives in the eastern Pacific Ocean, from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Baja California, Mexico. It also lives in Japan. It feeds on bryozoans.

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It was neat to experience this a shell-less marine gastropod in the wild.

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Pacific Red Octopus

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One of the unquestionable highlights of tidepooling in California was seeing this cool creature – the first octopus I’ve ever encountered in the wild. The Pacific Red Octopus doesn’t seem to be as picky when it comes to its diet as many other species of octopus and will consume whatever food they can find, like crabs, clams, barnacles and scallops.

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An octopus usually collects food at night and then retreats to its den to eat at its leisure. It kills its prey with venom secreted from its salivary glands, then cracks the shell with its sharp beak.

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It can also drill a hole in the snail’s shell and inject a chemical that separates the snail’s flesh from its shell. An octopus deposits empty shells outside its den in a pile – commonly called an “octopus’s garden.”

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Although it has excellent eyesight, The Pacific Red Octopus uses touch and smell to find food; thousands of chemical receptors and millions of texture receptors line the rims of its suckers for the purpose of detecting food.

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Like all octopuses, it can change its color and texture, making its appearance highly variable. Color can vary from a deep brick red, to brown, to white, or mottled mixtures of the three.

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These are thought to be among the most intelligent of all invertebrates. The presence of individual personalities is a hallmark of intelligence, and the Pacific Red Octopus was the first invertebrate in which individual personalities were demonstrated.

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Opalescent Nudibranch

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While on a tidal pool adventure at Pillar Point, California, I came across this brightly colored marine invertebrate. Though it is small, only growing to about 2 inches, it is one of the prettiest and most colorful of the sea slugs.

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The Opalescent Nudibranch feeds mainly on hydra-like marine organisms such as sea anemones. It sometimes attacks other sea slugs and will eat smaller specimens of its own species. It can be found around tidepools, as well as on rocks, pier pilings and mudflats. It can also be found from low-tide line water to water up to 100 feet deep.

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Not only is it beautiful, but this creature is also a model organism and used in studies into classical conditioning, memory consolidation and associative learning, the structure of neural circuits and neural physiology. In addition, it is widely used in studies of ecology, pharmacology and toxicology.

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Sea Lemon

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While investigating tide pools near San Francisco, I found several cool creatures, this was one of them. It is a medium-sized, shell-less colorful Sea Slug – a marine gastropod mollusk. Its common name comes from this animal’s visual similarity to a lemon, featuring roughened skin, an oval shape (when seen from above), and its yellow coloration.

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Its bright colors are an advertisement to its distastefulness; its fruity, penetrating odor and acidic taste repels most predators, though Sea Slugs eat other Sea Slugs, this type feeds mainly on sponges. Like a land slug, it uses its filelike tongue to scrape sponges, its favorite being the Breadcrumb Sponge.

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The Sea Lemon has a ring of upright feathery gills, which are quickly retracted when a disturbance is sensed, similar to how a land slug retracts its eyes. It is hermaphroditic, possessing both male and female organs. This fascinating invertebrate is relatively short-lived, having a lifespan of about a year.

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Atlantic Ribbed Mussel

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While checking out a tiny cove in Rye, New York, I came across several examples of this bivalve that lives in low, regularly flooded marshes and mud flats.

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The Atlantic Ribbed Mussel grows 2 to 4 inches in length. Its glossy, oval, grooved shell varies in color from olive or yellowish-brown to black. The shell’s interior is iridescent blue to silvery white.

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These creatures are are filter feeders. During high tide, they open their shells slightly to draw in water, filtering out algae and other particles.

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They attach themselves to rocks and other surfaces and clumps of mussels can be found half-buried in the mud among marsh grasses.

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Mussels perform an important environmental function of filtering water entering marshes during each tidal cycle. This helps clean and clarify the water.

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An Atlantic Ribbed Mussel’s age can be determined by counting dark growth rings on the shell. Mussels typically live 10 – 15 years, but more advanced ages are not uncommon.

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Yellow-soled Slug

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Also known by its common name the “Garden Slug,” “Small Striped Slug” or “Black Field Slug,” this species is small (about 1 inch). The “Yellow-soled” part of its name comes from its colorful foot.

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This creature lives in gardens, fields, pastures and similar habitat and consumes agriculturally important crops; it often inhabits disturbed sites like roadsides.

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Their food is eaten by means of a rasping tongue known as a radula. Slugs are related to snails; in this species the shell is reduced to a group of calcareous granules below the mantle, which appears as a bulge on front part of the animal.

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Yellow-soled Slugs emerge at night and spend the day in moist places beneath stones, logs and other objects. Although not a favorite of many people, I didn’t mind coming across this little creature on a warm Winter’s day.

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Leopard Slug

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The Latin name for this creature is Limax maximus, which literally means “biggest slug.” It is also known by the common name Great Grey Slug. Although I occasionally see them in my home state of Ohio, I saw quite a few while visiting southern Illinois.

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Adults measure 4 to 8 inches in length and are usually a light grey or grey-brown with darker spots and blotches, although their coloration and patterning is quite variable. Although native to Europe, this species has been accidentally introduced to many other parts of the world.

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It makes its home in forests, but is often also found in cellars and in cultivated areas. Leopard Slugs are mainly active at night, though they may also be seen in daytime during wet, warm and overcast weather. During the day they hide under stones, logs and in dark wall crevices.

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Leopard Slugs don’t tend damage living plants, but instead eat other slugs, including species that can damage garden plants and vegetables. They also eat dead and rotting plants along with fungi and this recycles nutrients and fertilizes the soil.

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All slugs are slimy, but this species is especially so, giving it a highly unappealing and defense against predators.

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Brown Garden Snail

This creature was introduced to California in the 1850s as a source of escargot. This species is native to the Mediterranean region and has adapted well to the Golden State.

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Brown Garden Snails live in habitats like gardens and parks made by man, as well as in coastal dunes and brushland. The Brown Garden Snail is a herbivore and feeds on a wide variety of plants. Most land snails are nocturnal, but after a rain storm they may come out of their hiding places during the day. They move with a gliding motion by means of a long flat muscular organ called a foot.

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The head bears four tentacles, the upper two of which have eye-like light sensors, and the lower two of which are smaller, are used for touch and smell. The tentacles can be retracted into the head. The mouth is located beneath the tentacles, and contains a rasp-like structure which the snail uses to scrape up food particles.

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Mucus, constantly secreted by glands in the foot, which facilitates movement and leaves a silvery, slimy trail. The shell may be either yellow or horn-colored with chestnut brown spiral bands which are interrupted by yellow flecks or streaks.

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This species is one of the best-known of all terrestrial molluscs and one of the most widespread land snail species in the world. Transported by humans, today it can be found in Northern America, Southern America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

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Eastern Forest Snail

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Snails are best known for their shell. The shell is made by the snail by a part of the body called the mantle. Snails secrete an acidic material from the sole of their foot that dissolves calcium in the soil and allows its uptake, so the shell can be created.

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Eastern Forest Snails are our most common land snail. They grow a large shell, sometimes over an inch wide. The shell is fairly flat and tan with darker blotches. There is a flared opening leading into the shell.

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They are herbivores, eating living or dead plant material. They are very important for controlling plant populations and breaking down plant materials.

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These snails can move several inches in a minute. They release an orange slime as they crawl. The slime gives them a “cushion” to crawl over. This cushion protects their soft bodies from sharp things. Snails can also use old slime trails as paths back to food or shelter.

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Land snails can be considered one of the many building blocks for the ecosystems in which they reside; providing not only a food source but accessibility to calcium. I enjoy looking at the unique, interesting patterns on their shells.

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Chitons

I decided to check out these west coast tidal pools today and saw some odd organisms.

The Chiton is a mysterious creature with eight protective shell plates and a muscular foot, which anchors it to a rock. It is impossible to pry it off the rock with your bare hands.

Chitons are generally sluggish and many are nocturnal and remain concealed under rocks during the day. Their food mainly consists of algae scraped off the rocks, but some also consume animal matter. Its shell plates are often broken, but it can repair such breaks. When exposed to air during low tide, a Chiton can breathe oxygen from the atmosphere.

Recently it has been discovered that this armored relative of snails is unique among living animals, because it sees the world through lenses of limestone, and its eyes literally erode as it gets older. Chitons may be the only living animals with rocky eyes of this sort. Another group of extinct oceanic animals – the trilobites – had lenses made from calcite, another form of limestone.

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