Cashing in some Personal hours this afternoon to attend a lecture about nudibranchs at the California Academy of Sciences was definitely the best thing I've done for me in a long time. So great and refreshing to do something completely different with my brain! So exhilarating to be immersed in marine biology! Today's experience confirmed me as a HUGE fan of the Academy of Sciences. Really, I'm a little starry-eyed in love.
The only goofy thing about the lecture was its title, ham-handed in its halliteration: "Sneaky Sea Slugs: Three Tales of Tidepool Thievery." The presenter, Dr. Rebecca Johnson, a marine invertebrate zoologist who has studied nudibranchs extensively, was fantastic - the perfect combination of knowledgeable, passionate, approachable and funny. If you don't know why someone would devote their career or 1 1/2 hours of Personal time to delight in sea slugs, check this out: David Doubilet's remarkable photographs from a recent National Geographic magazine.
Aaaah, the calm of taxonomy: understanding what makes a Mollusk a Mollusk, a Gastropod a Gastropod, an Opistobranch, a Nudibranch. I love the classification, the definitions, the relationships. I love knowing the four kinds of nudibranchs, and observing their peculiar and delightful little bodies and knowing now the names of their various parts: gills (really, that's what those are!), rhinophores, cerata. And of course that they're simultaneously hermaphroditic, even more fun: each nudi is simultaneously male and female so any individual can mate with any other, like land snails and slugs to which they are very closely related.
But the whole point of today's lecture: to revel in the remarkable tendency of nudibranchs to retain and use features of their prey -- nematocytes (stinging cells) from anemones or toxins from chemically-defended sponges -- for their very own defense. Or how about the kleptoplasts, sea slugs who actually harvest the chloroplasts (organelles that conduct photosynthesis) from the algae they eat and in whose bodies photosynthesis continues for months, making them solar-powered! It's so crazy that if you made it up, people would scoff. And it's real!
I'm signing Joe and me up to go on a tidepool excursion to Bolinas at the end of May that was advertised at the lecture. For $10, we'll wander along with a naturalist or two and look for nudis and other delights. I can't imagine a better place to be at 7:30 am on a Sunday morning, honestly, that ambling along with some fellow nature geeks on the look-out for treasure.
Today was so great. I can't wait for more!