Common Nudibranchs of False Bay

Discover the diversity of Cape Town's colourful nudibranchs

02 November 2020

By Danel Wentzel

What are nudibranchs?

Small, colourful and varied, nudibranchs are many diver’s favourite subject matter. Nudibranchs as a group can be found across the world, but most species are endemic to an area.

Nudibranchs are members of the phylum Mollusca, which is derived from the Latin “mollus”, meaning soft-bodied. A common characteristic to all members of this group. They are part of the order Opisthobranchia which include all the sea slugs. All nudibranchs are sea slugs, but not all sea slugs are nudibranchs – they fall in their own order, Nudibranchia.

The word nudibranch is derived from Latin and means “naked gill” – for the reason that their gills are on the outside of their bodies. The nudibranchs are the only subgroup to have its own subgroup, which contain the 4 suborders Doridina, Dendronotina, Aeolidina and a group that does not fit into the previous three, the Arminia.

Now that we know what nudibranchs are - let us have a look at some familiar little faces that you may have encountered on your dives in Cape Town.


Contains more species than the rest combined. Frequently spotted due to their relatively large size and typically flamboyant colours. All Dorids display conspicuous gills and for most the gill structure forms rosettes or circles around the anus.

Cape Dorid

Hypselodoris capensis

Twin crown

Polycera sp.

Fiery Nudibranch

Okenia amoenula

Black nudibranch

Tambja capensis

Ghost nudibranch

Lecithophorus capensis

Orange clubbed

Limacia lucida (previously L. clavigera)


Typically long and tapered with gills forming a series of appendages. The groups rhinophores are generally fluted or cup-shaped.

Cowled nudibranch

Melibe rosea


A catch-all for species that do not fit into other suborders. An oral veil, also known as a velum, on the head is the only obvious characteristic that Arminids have in common.

Frilled nudibranch

Leminda millecra

Gas flame

Bonisa nakaza

Cape silvertip

Janolus capensis


Members typically have long tapering bodies, a pair of cephala tentacles on their heads, and clusters or rows of cerata extending down their backs.


Godiva quadricolor

Purple lady

Flabellina funeka

Coral nudibranch

Phyllodesmium horridus

Orange - eyed

Cratena capensis

There are about 80 unique species of Opisthobranchs in False Bay and the Cape Peninsula of which 67 are nudibranchs. There are plenty of little critters to find underneath the canopy of Cape Town's kelp forests and will keep even the most veteraned diver busy for many dives to come.

We have put together a beautiful PDF filled with all our nudibranch photos for you to use as a reference after your dives. Just download it to your phone for safe keeping.

If you want to have your own comprehensive field guide we recommend the local book by Guido Zsilavecz called Nudibranchs of the Cape Peninsula and False Bay which you can order directly from him here.


All images are copyright of Danel Wentzel.