Curaçao: Stunning Slugs, Snails, and Worms, or… the Pretty Yucky Stuff

Christmas Tree Worm

Go anywhere stateside after Thanksgiving (hell, after Halloween), and Christmas stuff is everywhere.

We arrived in Curaçao Thanksgiving Day, and I don't recall seeing anything glaringly festive. That's OK. The only Christmas tree I needed in the Caribbean was of the worm variety.

Possibly the prettiest worm ever: the Christmas Tree Worm. This little guy is all over the place underwater. It carves out a little hole in the hard coral to build a permanent home. The only part you'll ever see is the colorful spiral plume that sticks out of the coral. These beautiful fringes serve both as gills for breathing and house cilia that allow the worm to catch dinner. If you get too close, they pop back into their holes to hide until the threat moves on.

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Flamingo Tongue Snail

This pretty little guy lives all over the mid-Atlantic region and can be found munching on soft corals. Don't think you should go plucking it from its happy coral-munching habits, though, and sneaking it into your pocket for the pretty shell. The shell is actually plain white with no markings at all; the color and spots come from live tissue that covers the shell while the snail is alive. Apparently, if you were such an animal that would eat this snail, and if you were to attack it, it could retract this mantle tissue to expose the shell. Otherwise, it spends its life meandering, munching, and looking marvelous.

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Lettuce Sea Slug

With a name like E. crispata and an appearance like curly salad greens, the Lettuce Sea Slug could almost find itself at home in your crisper drawer. It looks like a nudibranch, and those who know me know I love nudibranchs, but it isn't. It's not even closely related to nudibranchs. It belongs to a different category of slug entirely, known as "sap-sucking slugs," named for its propensity for slurping the juicy bits out of the algae it eats. It even retains chloroplasts in its tissues that provide it with sugars. AND it's frilly. Sweet.

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