Aeolidia papillosa

Aeolidia papillosa (Linnaeus, 1761)

Aeolidia papillosa by Manuel Ballesteros










































Aeolidia papillosa  (Linnaeus, 1761)

 Classification according to Bouchet et al. (2017)
Taxonomic source: World Register of Marine Species (AphiaID: 138709).

  • Aeolidia herculea Troschel, 1866
  • Aeolidia papillosa var. pacifica Bergh, 1879
  • Aeolidia serotina Bergh, 1873
  • Aeolis lesliana MacGillivray, 1843
  • Aeolis murrayana MacGillivray, 1843
  • Doris bodoensis Gunnerus, 1770
  • Doris vermigera Turton, 1807
  • Eolidia zetlandica Forbes & Goodsir, 1839
  • Eolis campbellii Cunningham, 1871
  • Eolis cuvieri Lamarck, 1819
  • Eolis farinacea Stimpson, 1853
  • Eolis obtusalis Alder & Hancock, 1842
  • Eolis papillosa (Linnaeus, 1761)
  • Eolis papillosa var. albina Dautzenberg & Durouchoux, 1913
  • Eolis plumata Dalyell, 1853
  • Eolis rosea Alder & Hancock, 1842
  • Limax papillosus Linnaeus, 1761 (original)

This is the largest aeolidacean of the European coasts, where the largest specimens seem to reach up to 12 cm in length, although they are usually about half this size. The body is wide and flat, quite opaque and with a highly variable coloration, with specimens ranging from white to gray to yellowish brown or even purple as the base color, with many spots of white or gray or brown or even dark violet; according to their density, they change the animal’s overall appearance. These spots are more numerous in large specimens. In the front of the head it usually has a “V” shaped stain, it’s base between the rhinophores and with the arms extended to the oral tentacles’ upper side. This stain can also extend to a rhombus or crescent shape over the pericardial area, located behind the rhinophores and not usually be covered by the cerata. The anal papilla, usually white, is hidden under the cerata. The cerata, somewhat darker than the body color, are pointed, often have a white apex and are very numerous, as they are arranged in up to 25 transverse rows of 12-24 cerata per row on each side of the body, they have a somewhat flattened shape and they tend to be “combed” backwards. The first cerata are smaller than the rest and are located well ahead of the rhinophores. Smooth, short and straight, the rhinophores have a conical shape with a truncated tip, and they are contractile. Like the cerata, the rhinophores have light colored apex, whitish or yellowish, and a base color similar or somewhat darker than the body, with a darker shade when contracted. Oral tentacles are somewhat longer than the rhinophores, and are separated by a distance equivalent to three times the base of one of them. The eyes are internal and are located at the base of the rhinophores, although they are usually not visible. The foot is quite wide, especially in the front, where a pair of characteristic propodial tentacles are found. The sole is translucent white and allows to see some pinkish internal organs (genitalia) by transparency. Anatomically it is very similar to A. filomenae, but there are some differences: The cerata of A. filomenae are flattened, slightly hook-shaped and usually have a paler shade than the rest of the body while the cerata A. papillosa are usually darker and thinner.

As the species Aeolidia filomenae, which it has traditionally been confused with, it feeds on sea anemones. In the intertidal and shallow water, even in brackish water, it usually feeds on Actinia equina, but also on Actinia fragacea, Anemonia viridis and Metridium senile. In the sublittoral it is known to feed on Actinothoe sphyrodeta, Aiptasia couchi, Alcyonium digitatum, Anemonia, Sagartia, Sagartiogeton, Anthopleura ballii, Bunodactis, Cereus pedunculatus, Corynactis viridis, Diadumene and Tealia. It has also been found down to 800 meters deep. Before attacking its preys, it widely extends the sensory tentacles and secretes abundant mucus to protect itself against the stinging filaments projected by the anemone when it feels in danger. It is known that, like other aeolidaceans, it is able to store the active nematocysts from the eaten anemones and using them as a defense by passing them to the tips of the cerata. When it feels attacked it releases the accumulated nematocysts, escaping from a dog’s jaws (I.Smith, Conchological Society), or repelling a starfish, that avoided touching it at all ( J.Kocian, 11/07/2007, Sea Slug Forum). Spawn, usually laid on hard substrates between January and August, consists of a string a few millimeters in diameter with capsules containing small white eggs (occasionally pink) arranged in a spiral with a characteristic zigzag. The larvae are dispersed in the plankton after hatching, but smaller juveniles are not usually found on the coasts, as they may live in greater depths.


  • Aeolidia from Aeolis, Greek god of the wind
  • Papillosa with papillae, short processes

In the European Atlantic coasts it is found from the White Sea to Portugal, passing through the North Sea (in Dutch waters it is one of the most common species, with densities of up to 10 individuals per square meter), the British Isles, English Channel and the French and Spanish Atlantic coast, although it seems to show preference for the colder northern waters. It is also found on the coasts of North America, both the Atlantic and the Pacific, from Alaska to California. The study of Aeolidia papillosa compared with the very similar Aeolidia filomenae reveals that samples from different localities of the Atlantic coast of Europe, attributed so far to the first species actually belong to the second. The accepted variability in the color pattern of the first species masks the existence of a second European pseudocryptic species of this genus.

Known georeferenced records of the species: Aeolidia papillosa
: GROC 2010-2011
: Enric Madrenas
: João Pedro Silva
: Bernard Picton
: Manuel Ballesteros.
: M@re Nostrum
: Altres fonts
: Marine Regions


    Western Mediterranean: ☆☆☆☆☆
    Eastern Mediterranean: ☆☆☆☆☆
    Atlantic Ocean: ★★★☆☆

This chart displays the monthly observation probability for Aeolidia papillosa based on our own records.

More pictures


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Further reading

Cite this article as:

Pontes, Miquel, Manuel Ballesteros, Enric Madrenas (2023) "Aeolidia papillosa" in OPK-Opistobranquis. Published: 22/09/2013. Accessed: 28/02/2024. Available at (

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