Seven-armed starfish

Chilly but Fabulous – February Rockpools

I’m not cut out for rockpooling in a northerly wind in February. My hands are too frozen to hold my battered old camera steady, but nothing is going to make me miss this tide. It’s so low that the seagrass at Hannafore is high and dry and a shark is lurking in shin-deep water, but I haven’t seen that yet.

A male Xantho incisus crab
A male Xantho incisus crab
A beautiful dahlia anemone (Urticina felina).
A beautiful dahlia anemone (Urticina felina).

There are fish, crabs, worms and brittle stars in droves under every rock and I move ultra-slowly to avoid trampling the numerous sand-mason worms and anemones that are embedded in the gravelly sea floor.

A scorpion fish lurking in a pool
A scorpion fish lurking in a pool

There are more squat lobsters, Galathea squamifera, than I remember seeing before and they are far larger out here, in what is usually the open sea, than in the rock pools. One barely fits in the margarine tub where I briefly place him to take a photo.

The biggest squat lobster I've ever found. Galathea squamifera.
The biggest squat lobster (Galathea squamifera) I’ve ever found.

Long-legged spider crabs are everywhere too. Brilliantly camouflaged by decorating themselves with pieces of seaweed, they are almost invisible until they move.

A 'decorator' crab - long legged spider crab.
A ‘decorator’ crab – long legged spider crab – covered in seaweed.

I find seven-armed starfish in large numbers. They delighted children on the previous day’s rockpool ramble with the Looe Marine Conservation Group. Their especially long tentacle feet are entrancing to watch.

The underside of a seven-armed starfish showing the tentacle feet.
The underside of a seven-armed starfish showing the tentacle feet.

I christen one of my favourite finds of the day ‘echinoderm rock’. For some reason urchins, brittle stars, cushion stars and a large sea gherkin have all decided to congregate here as though staging some kind of extended-family reunion.

A shore urchin and a brittle star on 'echinoderm rock'.
A shore urchin and a brittle star on ‘echinoderm rock’.
A sea gherkin (Pawsonia saxicola) on 'echinoderm rock'.
A sea gherkin (Pawsonia saxicola) on ‘echinoderm rock’.

There are many wonderful things that are too small for my camera to cope with. There’s the delicate little sea spider, almost indistinguishable from a tiny clump of seaweed. My son finds a small hermit crab, Anapagurus hyndmanni, easily recognised by its glove-like oversized white claw.

I manage to get some snaps of one fascinating little creature, Candelabrum cocksi. This is a small hydrozoan is a distant relative of the jellyfish and catches its prey using its stinging cells. It’s often only 1cm long but can extend to over 10cm. I find it in both states.

Candelabrum cocksii - not extended (about 1.25 cm long)
Candelabrum cocksii – not extended (about 1.25 cm long)
Candelabrum cocksii extended - about 10cm
Candelabrum cocksii extended – about 10cm

The pain of the cold in my fingers makes me turn for home, although I’m distracted many more times before I reach my goal of a hot chocolate under a warm blanket.

It should be warmer when the March spring tides come around.

 

 

 

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