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Sea slug
Group of marine invertebrates with varying levels of resemblance to terrestrial slugs

For the missile of the same name, see Seaslug (missile).
Not to be confused with sea cucumber or sea snail.
Sea slug is a common name for some marine invertebrates with varying levels of resemblance to terrestrial slugs. Most creatures known as sea slugs are actually gastropods, i.e. they are sea snails (marine gastropod mollusks) that over evolutionary time have either completely lost their shells, or have seemingly lost their shells due to having a greatly reduced or internal shell. The name "sea slug" is most often applied to nudibranchs, as well as to a paraphyletic set of other marine gastropods without obvious shells.

Sea slugs have an enormous variation in body shape, color, and size. Most are partially translucent. The often bright colors of reef-dwelling species implies that these animals are under constant threat of predators, but the color can serve as a warning to other animals of the sea slug's toxic stinging cells (nematocysts) or offensive taste. Like all gastropods, they have small, razor-sharp teeth, called radulas. Most sea slugs have a pair of rhinophores—sensory tentacles used primarily for the sense of smell—on their head, with a small eye at the base of each rhinophore. Many have feathery structures (cerata) on the back, often in a contrasting color, which act as gills. All species of genuine sea slugs have a selected prey animal on which they depend for food, including certain jellyfish, bryozoans, sea anemones, and plankton as well as other species of sea slugs.

Sea slugs have brains. For example, Aplysia californica has a brain of about 20,000 nerve cells.

Shell-less marine gastropods
The name "sea slug" is often applied to numerous different evolutionary lineages of marine gastropod molluscs or sea snails, specifically those gastropods that are either not conchiferous (shell-bearing) or appear not to be. In evolutionary terms, losing the shell altogether, having a small internal shell, or having a shell so small that the soft parts of the animal cannot retract into it, are all features that have evolved many times independently within the class Gastropoda, on land and in the sea; these features often cause a gastropod to be labeled with the common name "slug".


The nudibranch Glossodoris atromarginata
Nudibranchs (clade Nudibranchia) are a large group of marine gastropods that have no shell at all. These may be the most familiar sort of sea slug. Although most nudibranchs are not large, they are often very eye-catching because so many species have brilliant coloration. In addition to nudibranchs, a number of other taxa of marine gastropods (some easily mistaken for nudibranchs) are also often called "sea slugs".

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