Melibe leonina, common names the "hooded nudibranch", "lion's mane nudibranch", or "lion's mane sea slug" is a species of predatory sea slug, specifically a nudibranch, a marine gastropod mollusk in the family Tethydidae.
This nudibranch is up to 102 mm long, 25 mm wide, and 51 mm across the expanded oral hood.
The body of this nudibranch is translucent. It is usually colorless to pale yellow or green, with opaque brown hepatic diverticula. It has a large expandable oral hood, fringed with sensory tentacles, which it opens and throws forward in order to catch food. A single pair of rhinophores on the hood are rounded and earlike. 4-6 pairs of flat paddle shaped cerata run along its dorsum in two rows.
Melibe leonina exudes a sweet fruity aroma when it is removed from the water, or when numerous individuals are kept together in captivity. Because of their smell and the way they expand their oral hoods while attached to kelp and eelgrass, a group of Melibe is called a "bouquet".
Melibe leonina is carnivorous and hunts for food, while attached to grasses, by extending its oral hood out and downward like a net. When the ventral surface of the hood contacts a small animal, the hood rapidly closes and the fringing tentacles overlap, holding in the prey then forcing the whole animal into the mouth. Prey include amphipods, copepods, mysids, other small crustaceans, small mollusks, small jellyfish and ctenophores, larvae of other invertebrates and in some cases small fish.
Like most other sea slugs, Melibe leonina is a hermaphrodite. They apparently live about one year, reciprocally fertilize one another, lay their eggs and die. Eggs are attached to kelp and eelgrass in long, wide yellow or cream-colored ribbons which form tight coils or wavy folds.
Predators may include fish, kelp dwelling crabs and sea stars, but when disturbed Melibe leonina has the ability to autotomize (shed) its cerata. This will hopefully lead the would-be attacker away as the discarded appendages float off, or at least cause a distraction long enough for the sea slug to make an escape.
When harassed or dislodged, Melibe leonina is capable of swimming. It uses rhythmic lateral-bending movements, and can sometime travel long distances across open water. The upside-down, side-to-side thrashing motion may look awkward, but it is a complex series of movements which has been studied extensively.
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- Newcomb, J.M. and W.H. Watson III. 2001. Identifiable nitrergic neurons in the central nervous system of the nudibranch Melibe leonina, localized with NADPH-diaphorase histochemistry and nitric oxide synthase immunoreactivity. J. Comp. Neurol. 437: 70-78.
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