Mandelia mirocornata

Image courtesy of Terry Gosliner
Hout Bay, Capetown, South Africa

Mandelia mirocornata Valdes & Gosliner, 1999

Last week the world lost one of its most influential leaders, a man of peace, a man of change and a man of reconciliation, Nelson Mandela. He is one of the most iconic and revered figures of our time. So what did Nelson Mandela have to do with nudibranchs?

When I first worked in South Africa from 1979-1982, it was still under the epoch of apartheid. South Africa was segregated and most beaches proclaimed signs saying "Whites Only!" Nelson Mandela was still imprisoned on Robben Island, off the shore of Table Bay, within sight of downtown Capetown. Robben means seal in Afrikaans and is named for the Cape fur seals that abound along the island's shoreline.

(Robben Island photo here, photo by Heather Gosliner)

While I was working in South Africa, we managed to collect dozens of new species of nudibranchs. On land and in the ocean, the Cape region is a biological paradise. The flora of the area is one of the richest temperate flora's in the world and this small area is considered its own terrestrial biogeographical province. It is one of the four richest temperate marine biotas in the world. Angel Valdes and I were working on the phylogeny of the porostome nudibranchs, the radula-less dorids that feed on sponges by pumping the soft tissue into their mouths rather than scrapping their prey with a radula. In doing our phylogenetic study, we found that one of the new species that I had discovered in the Cape was the sister to all the rest of the porostomes. As such, it required creating a new genus name. In 1999, we decided to call this new species Mandelia mirocornata. Here is how we explained the origins of the name:

This South African genus is named Mandelia to honor Nelson Mandela, who led the struggle for a multiracial government in South Africa. The specific name is derived from the Latin mirus (odd) and cornus (horn) in reference to the peculiar shape of the rhinophores of this species.

Years later in 2008, Angel and I were able to take our slug labs to South Africa and collect many South African species for molecular study. (photo of lab students and post doc. Left to right: Beth Moore, Marta Pola, Lakisa Witzel and Carla Stout). We collected many specimens of Mandelia mirocornata during our time there.

We also had a chance to the notorious Robben Island prison that was Nelson Mandela's home for 17 years. Seeing Mandela's cell was a poignant reminder that we can never take our freedom for granted.

Mandela was a great leader who reunited a deeply divided nation. He said he would serve one five your term as President and kept his promise. Madiba, as he was called by his countrymen, said many memorable things about the world.

One quote I will always remember is this one:

"...There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living..."

None of us should settle for anything less!


Phylogeny of the radula-less dorids (Mollusca, Nudibranchia),with the description of a new genus and a new family. Angel Valdes and Terrence M. Gosliner The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Zoologica Scripta, 28, 3-4, October 1999, pp315-360

Dr. Terry Gosliner
California Academy of Sciences
Dec., 2013
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From left to right, Terry Gosliner, Angel Valdes, Dave Behrens La Jolla, Calif.

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