Observation of the Week, 3/23/17

This Cyerce nigricans sea slug, seen on Lord Howe Island by @ianhutton, is our Observation of the Week!

Ian Hutton grew up in Sydney, Australia and came to know the outdoors through Boy Scouts, but it is on Lord Howe Island, a remote speck of land 370 miles (600 km) east of the Australian continent, where he’s lived most of his life. “After school I joined the Australian Weather Bureau as a way of getting out of Sydney and exploring Australia by working in some remote areas,” he recalls. “I’d done a little bit of travelling up the East Coast with the Weather Bureau and in 1980 I came to Lord Howe Island on a Bureau posting and have been here since.”

Ian has explored the island thoroughly throughout his many years there, studying birds, plants (he discovered about 12 new species), and intertidal creatures, as well helping researchers (“It was a great time for me. I enjoyed their company and learned a lot by being with them,” he says), and publishing a dozen books.

“I have photographed every plant of Lord Howe Island with flowers, fruits, bark, and seedling, all the birds in various stages and behaviors, and many insects,” says Ian.

"But perhaps I am most fascinated by the intertidal marine life. The seashore is the place I can go and lose myself for a few hours, wandering around rock pools at low tide, and always see something I haven’t seen before – animals, a behavior, and endless fascination. The sea slugs are a particularly beautiful group of marine animals and I love finding these and photographing them, over and over. …… and….. my favourite is of course the Black and gold cyerce or Cyerce nigricans shown in this image –  quite rare and I [see] only maybe 6 a year, and always take photographs."

While it resembles a nudibranch, the Black and gold cyerce is not in the nudibranch order but is instead a sacoglossan, or “sap-sucking” slug that eats algae. Some sacoglossans are even able to keep chloroplasts from the algae in their bodies and use them for photosynthesis (kleptoplasty!), but that is an ability the Black cyerce lacks. Unlike other slugs in its genus it is vibrantly colored and patterned, which warns predators of its foul taste.

“Living here is like living in a David Attenborough documentary,” says Ian, when describing his island home. “It has rainforest clad mountains 2,850 feet high with many plants found nowhere else in the world, thronging seabird colonies with fourteen different species breeding, the world’s most southerly coral reef with its myriad of tropical marine creatures.” He also notes that it’s a leader in conservation, having eradicated invasive animals such as cats and goats, and they are hoping to eradicate rodents by 2018. Ian himself has initiated a weeding ecotour program of the island, which has run 81 times since 1995 and contributed over 25,000 volunteer hours, and for which he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal.

Ian heard about several recent projects involving the Australian Museum, and says “so I thought I would plug a few photos in and introduce iNaturalist to Lord Howe Island and see where it goes from here. It seems a very professional operation with huge potential for sharing knowledge – and that hopefully will encourage conservation of our amazing planet. I will certainly enjoy being part of it, sharing photos not only on Lord Howe Island but wherever I travel.”

by Tony Iwane


- Check out the Lord Howe Island Nature Tours page for more info about Ian, the island, and tours.

- There are over 800 observations from Lord Howe Island on iNaturalist, you can see them here. Amazing stuff!

- If you want to learn more about sea slugs, Sea Slug Forum is where it’s at.

Posted by tiwane tiwane, March 24, 2017 06:59 AM

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