The Spanish dancer belongs to an order of marine slugs known as nudibranchs. These are generally brightly colored animals making them popular among divers, especially photographers! They are carnviorous, generally feeding on sponges, hydroids, and corals. They are generally nasty tasting to predators, but do not create their own toxins. They have a unique ability to recycle the toxins or even undischarged nematocysts (stinging cells) from animals they have ingested.
The largest of the nudibranchs is the Spanish dancer, so called because when it swims the undulating movements of its flattened body are reminiscent of a flamenco dancer. Adults are brightly but variably colored, generally in shades of red, pink, or orange, sometimes mixed with white or yellow.
While resting, crawling, or feeding, the lateral edges of the Spanish dancer’s mantle are folded up over its back, displaying the less colorful underside. If disturbed, it will escape by swimming away, exposing its bright colors and possibly startling potential predators. Spanish dancers are specialist predators that feed only on sponges.
photos courtesy Sandi Strickland