The nudibranch obsession

Written by: Hagai Zvulun

Nudibranchs are among the world’s most colourful organisms. They are often no bigger than your thumbnail and have spawned a global obsession of cult proportions. Any poor souls that have been hit by the nudibranch obsession are called “brankers” or “sluggers”, and we travel far and wide to view and photograph them.

Chromodoris Africana in Zanzibar

The Chromodoris Africana nudi off the coast of Zanzibar © Hagai Zvulun

Phyllidia Varicosa

Phyllidia Varicosa © Hagai Zvulun

Pteraeolidia ianthina Zanzibar

Pteraeolidia ianthina off the coast of Zanzibar © Hagai Zvulun

Nudibranchs (commonly shortened to ‘nudis’) bear some of the most fascinating complexions and intricate patterns of any animal on earth. It’s the endless combination of the small size, bright colours, textures, shapes and slow movements that makes them such an attractive subject of observation. Nudis are some of the most diverse marine fauna, with more than 3,000 known species, and they are fascinating creatures. Their bodies are covered with brightly coloured extensions, which are used for breathing, which is implied by their name as ‘nudibranch’ means a ‘naked gill’. When they feed on a poisonous sponge or a mouthful of sea anemone stingers, nudis safely store these poisons in their own bodies, in turn becoming poisonous.

Mating Chromodoris boucheti in Zanzibar

Mating Chromodoris boucheti off the coast of Zanzibar © Hagai Zvulun

Halgerda Tessellate

Halgerda Tessellate off the coast of Zanzibar © Hagai Zvulun

The most obvious sensory organ of the nudis are their rhinophores, which are two long, horn-like attachments that contain chemical sensors, which the animal uses to explore its surroundings. At Matembezi Safaris in East Africa, we enjoy a wonderful diversity of nudis and, thanks to a lot of attention and scientific research, increasingly more species are being discovered; some of which have never been documented in Africa before.

Chromodoris kuiteri

Chromodoris kuiteri  © Hagai Zvulun

Hexabranchus sanguineus

Hexabranchus sanguineus © Hagai Zvulun

Over the years we have managed to discover many superb hotspots where a great diversity of nudis can be found on our Tanzanian seafaris. The Cyerce nigracans must be one of the most beautiful of them all, and this east African specialty features highly on the lifer list of any serious “branker”.

Cyerce nigracans3 Zanzibar

Cyerce nigracans in Zanzibar © Hagai Zvulun

Cyerce nigracans

Cyerce nigracans © Hagai Zvulun

Meanwhile the distribution of the varied Nembrotha Spp. species has been confusing scientists for years. Currently thought to be a local form of the widely distributed Nembrotha Milleri, more research is required on these African populations, but we are certain that it is beautiful!

Nembroath spp Zanzibar

Nembrotha Spp. off the coast of Zanzibar © Hagai Zvulun


Matembezi is a Tanzanian safari company with the aim of taking guests to beautiful locations to experience great wildlife moments and human encounters unmarred by mass tourism. From wilderness areas inhabited by hunter gatherers, to remote bird rich forests and the lush reefs of the coral sea, their intimate knowledge of Tanzania is the basis of their ability to offer safaris off the beaten track. They operate excellent mobile camps and pride themselves on superb guiding, as well as attentive and friendly service.

Africa Geographic