Pictured "knitting" a doily-like egg mass in a lab in 2008, a new species of fiery-colored nudibranch, or sea slug, has been found in shallow tide pools near a southern California campground, a new study says.
Marine biologist Jeff Goddard stumbled across the carnivorous 1.2-inch (3-centimeter) creature—later dubbed Flabellina goddardi—while searching for another sea slug in Carpinteria State Park (map) in 2008. Not long afterward, in the lab, the hermaphroditic critter laid a lacy egg mass, which hatched into tiny, snail-like babies.
"That was a treat," said Goddard, of the University of California, Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute—though not necessarily a surprise.
Sea slugs are often transparent—"you can see the gonads through the body," for example—and Goddard knew the animal was expecting. (See pictures of colorful sea slugs in National Geographic magazine.)
The elaborate latticework of the egg mass is a "trick of arrangement" to make sure all the embryos get enough oxygen, he added. "That whole string is packed with thousands of egg capsules."
Finding a new slug "right there under our noses" is a reminder that "there are still many species, especially in the oceans—even ones in our backyard—that haven't been described," he said. (See a picture of a bug-eating sea slug found recently in Thailand.)
Plus, they're just plain stunning: "People are interested in butterflies and birds and brightly colored [animals]," he said. "This is the marine equivalent of butterflies."
The new sea slug species is formally described in the September 15 issue of the journal Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences.