Phyllodesmium macphersonae
(Burn, 1962)

Family: Glaucidae


Tropical Indo-West Pacific. It is also found throughout Australia even in the cooler temperate waters of Victoria and Tasmania.


Lower photo showing brown patches beneath the skin which are 'gardens' of one-celled plants (zooxanthellae) which the nudibranch keeps alive and functioning in its body. Middle Reef, Minnie Waters, northern New South Wales, Australia. March, 1966. Photo: G. Biddle.

The body is translucent with scattered microscopic iridescent patches givin a bluish-purple sheen to the body in certain lights. Most of the body, cerata and tentacles have scattered brown patches. The uper part of the cerata and tentacles is white, often with a diffuse yellow band, and below this white region is a bluish band. In some animals the blue and yellow are absenr or only faintly visible. Species of Phyllodesmium usually feed on octocorals and many retain, and keep functioning in their bodies, symbiotic zooxanthellae from the octocorals they feed on. (See page on Solar Powerd Sea Slugs). We do not know what P. macphersonae feeds on, but its anatomy shows many adaptations for 'farming' zooxanthellae in its body. The brown patches which form such a prominent element of its colour pattern are in fact 'gardens' of zooxanthellae, arranged in special branches of the digestive system, so that they are able to get sufficient sunlight for photosynthesis. It grows to about 15mm in length.

• Rudman, W.B. (1981) The anatomy and biology of alcyonarian feeding aeolid opisthobranch molluscs and their development of symbiosis with zooxanthellae. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 72: 219-262.
• Rudman, W.B. (1991) Further studies on the taxonomy and biology of the octocoral-feeding genus Phyllodesmium Ehrenberg, 1831 (Nudibranchia: Aeolidoidea). Journal of Molluscan Studies, 57(2): 167-203.

Authorship details
Rudman, W.B., 2001 (April 29) Phyllodesmium macphersonae (Burn, 1962). [In] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

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