Very few biodiversity specialists can look at their plant or animal in the field and immediately be fairly certain that they have found a new species or not. Working on nudibranchs provides a luxury in that regard. When we find something we can be pretty sure that whatever we find is something recognizable or something we have not seen before. That provides us with a huge advantage when undertaking surveys like the 2011 Philippine Biodiversity Expedition. Things started off slowly, and we did not find any new species on the first eleven dives we made. I was starting to get a little concerned that maybe the trips here over the last 19 years had finally reached saturation; that we had finally found everything that was here. Boy, was I wrong. The next night dive, we found 8 new species on one dive. It was a shallow dive of only 17 feet, but it was slug city. Most were fairly smallish (about 0.5-10 mm) and several were fairly cryptic, but they were clearly new.
It is almost as exciting to find a known species that has not been found previously in the Philippines. We have come across several of these old friends from different places. One species, Trapania darvelli is striking and had been previously known only from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Our always sharp-eyed dive guide, Peri Paleracio, turned up a gorgeous specimen in 60 feet of water on a morning dive.
Last year my former postdoctoral collaborator, Shireen Fahey, and I named a new species based on only one specimen collected from Okinawa. It is always a bit dangerous to name a new species from one specimen, but we were convinced that it was so different from all known species that we felt confident enough to name it Dermatobranchus dendronephthyphagus. And while that sounds like a mouthful, it was given this name because it was found on the soft coral Dendronephthya. One of the other season dive guides at Club Ocellaris, Alexis Principe, spotted three more Dermatobranchus dendronephthyphagus on a night dive at a dive site called Basketball, the first records for the Philippines.
Again logic prevails in the naming of dive sites. The site is located off a basketball court near the southern tip of the Calumpan Peninsula.
The hunt for new species is back on a normal pace. We are now up to 27 new species and have another four known species never recorded previously from the Philippines. We are back to the pace we have been on for the last several years of finding an average of one new species per dive.