Jackson Estuarine Laboratory

Swimming behavior of the Nudibranch, Melibe leonina


Swimming in the nudibranch Melibe leonina consists of five types of movements that occur in the following sequence: (1) withdrawal, (2) lateral flattening, (3) a series of lateral flexions, (4) unrolling and swinging, and (5) termination. Melibe swims spontaneously, as well as in response to different types of aversive stimuli. In this study, swimming was elicited by contact with the tube feet of the predatory sea star Pycnopodia helianthoides, pinching with forceps, or application of a 1 M KCl solution. During an episode of swimming, the duration of swim cycles (2.7 ± 0.2 s [mean ± SEM], n = 29) and the amplitude of lateral flexions remained relatively constant. However, the latency between the application of a stimulus and initiation of swimming was more variable, as was the duration of an episode of swimming. For example, when touched with a single tube foot from a sea star (n = 32), the latency to swim was 7.0 ± 2.4 s, and swimming continued for 53.7 ± 9.4 s, whereas application of KCl resulted in a longer latency to swim (22.3 ± 4.5 s) and more prolonged swimming episodes (174.9 ± 32.1 s). Swimming individuals tended to move in a direction perpendicular to the long axis of the foot, which propelled them laterally when they were oriented with the oral hood toward the surface of the water. The results of this study indicate that swimming in Melibe, like that in several other molluscs, is a stereotyped fixed action pattern that can be reliably elicited in the laboratory. These characteristics, along with the large identifiable neurons typical of many molluscs, make swimming in this nudibranch amenable to neuroethological analyses.

Publication Date


Journal Title

Biological Bulletin


University of Chicago Press

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type