The Leibniz Institute for the Analysis of Biodiversity Change

is a research museum of the Leibniz Association

Phylogenetics & Evolutionary Biology



The Opisthobranchia


The Opisthobranchia are beautiful and diverse sea slugs having evolved from shell bearing Prosobranchia. About 5000 to 6000 species are known worldwide. They live in all kind of marine habitats, from the intertidal to the deep sea, from the polar regions to the tropical reefs.

Some species do not exceed a length of 5 mm, the largest can grow up to one meter. Many of them are specialists on certain food species. Some groups have specialized on algae, others on poriferans or corals. Some taxa are rather rapacious and a few even prefer to prey on congeners. 

The Opisthobranchia are quite famous for many unique biological phenomena, such as the defensive strategies of using highly toxic chemicals from their food or incorporating the stinging cells of cnidarian prey and using them against possible predators. Some of the opisthobranchs are so toxic, that they are mimicked by other invertebrates.

Another unique character for a certain group is the possibility to incorporate chloroplasts from their algal food and to use these as metabolite suppliers. Less spectacular, but nevertheless very interesting is the symbiotic relationship of certain groups with unicellular algae from corals. 

Contact person

Head of Section
+49 228 9122-241
+49 228 9122-295
h.waegele [at]