UCSB research biologist Jeff Goddard recently discovered a new species of the most savage class of animals in the kingdom — the sea slug!
Goddard stumbled upon the new species of nudibranch while working in the tide pools of Carpinteria Reef in 2008. A seafaring type of slug renowned for its vibrant colors and intricate tentacles, the foundling is the fifth specimen of the genus Flabellina identified in California and a member of the same genus as the famed “Spanish shawl” slug.
According to Goddard, unearthing a new species of marine molluscs is common in most regions of the world but new discoveries are rare on the Southern California coast, which is heavily trafficked by divers and slug enthusiasts.
Goddard said he had been shocked to find something he wasn’t really looking for.
“I was kind of dumb-struck that there would be a new species,” Goddard said. “I was amazed there was a new one left to find right off the Carpinteria campgrounds.”
The species — named Flabellina goddardi to honor Goddard’s discovery of the new species — is about 30 millimeters long and sports lengthy tentacles and red and orange pigmentation.
Although Goddard has already been credited with discovering multiple new species that now bear his name, the proud papa said he felt privileged nonetheless.
“It’s an honor to have something named after you,” Goddard said. “It can say something about one’s ability to observe things. And, the relatives all get a big kick out of it.”
While the animal looks like any old nudibranch to the untrained eye, Goddard said he knew that the slug was unique upon first sight.
“I was pretty sure it was new,” he said. “I know most of the species on the coast. Basically the color pattern on the tentacles on the back, combined with a lack of color anywhere else, as well as new shapes of tentacles, were like [those of] no other specimen.”
Goddard examined the specimen intensely and kept it captive in his lab for a few days until it laid an egg mass. He then gave the slug to the California Academy of Sciences, where Terrence Goslein — an expert on sea slug taxonomy — began the process of documentation and comparison.
“I was tremendously excited to see it — it’s such a beautiful new animal,” Goslein said. “Jeff did a superb job documenting its biology.”
Although Goslein has discovered a number of new species of sea slugs himself, he was amazed at the discovery of the new slug so close to home.
“I think it’s very surprising to find shallow water species that are new to science,” Goslein said. “We still find new species, but it’s not a common occurrence these days.”
Although Goddard found the slug in 2008, the species documentation process often moves at a snail’s pace, taking years to complete. Furthermore, the Flabellina goddardi has not reappeared in the two years that have crawled by since its discovery.