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This is a large species that can be distinguished by its numerous (3 to 6), longitudinal, tuberculate notal ridges. The ridge and bases of the tubercles are a blue-grey colour. The tubercles are capped in yellow. The foot sole has a black longitudinal foot stripe. The rhinophoral clavus possesses 27 to 30 lamellae.
Phyllidia varicose closely resembles juveniles of the sea cucumber, Pearsonothuria graeffei which are brightly coloured, being white and blue or black, with a few large, yellow, thorn-like projections. These bright colours warn predators of the toxicity of the sea cucumber, and this mimicry on the part of the sea slug species serves to protect it also. The adult sea cucumber has much duller coloration, but it is also much larger than the sea slug.
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