Vayssierea felis
(Collingwood, 1881)

Suborder: DORIDINA
Family: Vayssiereidae


Indo-West Pacific


UPPER: Vayssierea felis with tube worm, Spirorbis on brown alga (Ecklonia) with epiphyic algae. 5mm long.
LOWER: Vayssierea, 6mm long, amongst living Spirorbis on which it feeds. The bright red-orange spots in the body are developing eggs. Egg masses consist of a group of 3-5 eggs, which develop directly hatching as small crawling juveniles.
Both from Coffs Harbour region, northern New South Wales, December 1990. PHOTOS: Bill Rudman.

Collingwood first described this species from the South China Sea. Because of its small size and lack of gills he considered it to be most probably a juvenile of a species of Gymnodoris (Trevelyana). He found specimens in tide pools and described it as `very active and flexible, assuming at different times the most singular of forms, resembling in turn a fox, a rabbit, a cat, according to its different attitudes.' Although no internal anatomy was described, the size, colour, lack of gills, simple rhinophores and rapid movement and flexibility, clearly characterise this species which has been found, under various names in many parts of the Indo-West Pacific. Collingwood queries whether his species is a juvenile of the earlier named gymnodorid Stenodoris rubra Pease, 1866. Vayssierea caledonica, from New Caledonia, Okadaia elegans from Japan and Pellibranchus cinnabareus from New Zealand, are all the same colour and the major features of their anatomy are identical. They all feed on spirorbid or similar tube worms, live in the intertidal zone and have direct development. The only feature distinguishing them has been the morphology of the radular teeth. In an animal so small, it is not surprising that different interpretations of the radular morphology have been reported from light microscope preparations. Risbec described a radula with two lateral teeth on each side and no rachidian, while both Ralph and Baba reported three lateral teeth on each side, the inner two teeth varying in denticulation in each species. More recently, Young has redescribed the teeth of specimens from Okinawa and reported for the first time a small rachidian tooth. I have prepared SEM mounts of specimens from New Caledonia which are identical to Young's description. I would consider all the earlier descriptions of the radular teeth to be attempts to describe the same morphology. Consequently Vayssierea caledonica is the earliest name for which we have anatomical information. However, as discussed above, Collingwood's description of Trevelyana felis from the South China Sea is clearly this species. Both Baba (1937) and Risbec (1953) refer to T. felis as a possible synonym or close relative. While species with direct development do not usually have widespread distributions, the relationship of this species to Spirorbis and other fouling tubeworms, suggests that this species has become widely distributed, either artificially, on the bottom of boats, or on floating laminarian algae, a common site for spirorbid settlement. As well as its wide distribution in the western Pacific, it is also reported from South Africa (Gosliner, 1987a) and Tanzania (personal observation).

See V. felis References.
See V. felis - Radular Morphology.

NOTE added 19 April 2000: My suggestion that there may be only one widespread species of vayssiereid, which I am identifying here as Vayssierea felis has generated some long and thoughtful responses, for which I am very grateful. One of my aims for the Forum is to generate such discussion. I am putting all these responses, whether they agree with the 'one species' concept or not, on this page, at least temporarily. This does not mean I have made up my mind and am ignoring contrary views, just that it would be very difficult and time-consuming to set up new pages, then amalgamate them every time a new idea came in. Hopefully this discussion will reach the stage where we can resolve this issue and then I will rearrange the pages .... once. Bill Rudman.

Authorship details
Rudman, W.B., 2000 (April 12) Vayssierea felis (Collingwood, 1881). [In] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

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