Walking on St. Kilda’s Beach, outside Melbourne, I espy — amid the entirely pedestrian, albeit not at all ambulatory, pebbles and bits of shell — a slimy, crabby critter. Using my camera’s zoom, I keep my distance while documenting the encounter. Although it’s pretty surely dead, you never know what will jump up and suck your face off.
And then another one, laid out a little differently — pretty surely the same type of critter, more surely dead, and, in any case, less well positioned for jumping up. More confident, I move a little closer to inspect it: in this layout it is more jellyfish than crab.
Yet this gelatinous mass does not seem exactly like the only other jellyfish I have seen on this trip, through the glass of an aquarium in Auckland.
Where is the delicate, diaphanous build that produced the grace in motion of the aquarium specimens? Can these be the same type of critter? I can see I’m going to need some professional confirmation of my tentative identification.
Just in case it matters, I capture a photo with something for scale. Without, ahem, actually touching said critter, you understand. I then back off, carefully. You never know.
Appealed to via email, my no-fee zoological consultant confirms that this gooey mass is, indeed, what’s left of a jellyfish. Not a big surprise. I sniff as well as one can via email and make a dismissive comment about invertebrates in general, provoking a slightly terse email in response.
“Google ‘nudibranch’ images.”
And so I do. And what comes next is a big surprise.
But these amazing photos by David Doubilet on the National Geographic Magazine site are just the start. A little poking around reveals The Slug Site, featuring a glorious photo of the slug of the week. But that’s not all!
Enthusiastic text provides helpful links to reviews of Indo-Pacific nudibranchs and sea slugs! An Iberian opisthobranch project! Streaming video of sea slugs! And — and I quote — a really neat slug video!!
And — so help me — it really is a really neat slug video.
I can’t say how I lived this long without hearing about “nudis,” the pretty surely affectionate nickname for sea slugs (and was any critter more in need of a nickname?). But I can say that, at any age, a whole new batch of wonderful critters is not a bad return on the investment of just one hour on the beach and one snippy comment.
If I still had any doubt that you can find anything — anything — on the internet, this pretty much dispels that doubt.
And if I still had any doubt that the world is a higgledy-piggledy stack of pieces of layer cake, each piece with more breadth and depth than I can begin to imagine, this pretty much dispels that doubt, too.
Vince Shlomi, the ShamWow guy, had it right all along: “But wait, there’s more!”