When divers think of nudibranchs, words such as beautiful and enchanting typically pop to mind.
But such is not the case with the green melibe, a hulking brute of a shell-less sea slug as large as an outstretched hand and as unsightly as the mud bottoms it inhabits in the far reaches of the western Pacific.
What the green melibe lacks in colorful frills it more than makes up for with its wacky behavior.
Unlike its petite kin, which perch on spindly hydroid stems nibbling florets of polyps, the monstrous melibe half crawls and half rolls its improbable paddle flap of a body across the seafloor in search of a tasty crustacean dinner. Its prey — crabs, shrimp, copepods and the occasional larval fishes — are entrapped within the beast’s gigantic oral veil, which is cast before its prowling body like a translucent fishing net.
When the veil’s encircling fringe of sensory papillae detects a promising morsel the hood retracts like a snare.
Without so much as a single munch, the hapless victim is swallowed whole as the magnificent eating machine continues on its way, spreading its deadly hood as it goes.
If attacked itself, the melibe instantly sheds one or more of its flattened appendages as a decoy and swims away with a wildly chaotic side-to-side flapping style that can carry its bizarre anatomy a surprising distance from the danger.