Spanish Dancer? from the Maldives

July 29, 2001
From: Paula Zylstra

Hi Bill
I have a question but unfortunately no photo - always seem to leave the camera behind when we need it! We did a night dive in the Maldives on 13 July 2001 where we found a ~25-30 cm nudibranch. It was a uniform dark red, smooth body, in about 3-4m of water.

We thought it was a Spanish Dancer, but it appeared to have a single cluster of gills, not the 6 separate ones I've read about (when we first shone the torch on it it retracted the gills and I'm sure there weren't 6 separate bunches). The dive guide said Spanish Dancers were rare in the Maldives.

Does this sound like anything you know?
Thanks for your help

Zylstra, P., 2001 (Jul 29) Spanish Dancer? from the Maldives. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

Dear Paula,
An animal that large, and red, is most probably a Spanish Dancer [Hexabranchus sanguineus]. If you look through the messages on the Hexabranchus page you will see quite few photos of different colour forms. Concerning the gills. In most dorid nudibranchs with a relatively flattened body [eg Discodoris, Platydoris, Jorunna etc] the gills all contract into a single gill pocket. In Hexabranchus there is no gill pocket and each gill is inserted independently into the body wall. However when the gills are all extended it is hard to see the basal region and until they are maximally retracted it is difficult to see that they are independent of each other.

For future reference, one sure way of identifying Hexabranchus is to have a look at its mouth. Instead of having a single oral tentacle on each side, it has flap of tissue with a number of finger-like projections. Another fairly convincing test is to see if it will swim with the characteristic dorso-ventral muscle waves along the body.

Off-hand I can't think of any other uniformly dark red nudibranch of that size. Without some more clues I can't really help. Did anyone touch it? was it soft and fleshy or hard and rough? etc etc.
Best wishes,
Bill Rudman

Rudman, W.B., 2001 (Jul 29). Comment on Spanish Dancer? from the Maldives by Paula Zylstra. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from

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