The spiny starfish - always a popular find in the Cornish rock pools.

Searching for Starfish

We’ve been planning this trip since our visitors first came to Cornwall a year ago. They’re determined to try rock pooling having missed out last time. This week the tides are perfect. They live near the sea back home in Essex, but they tell me it’s not the same and I can well believe it.

They’ve never seen a starfish in the wild before. My mission is clear.

Getting stuck in to Cornish rock pooling
Getting stuck in to Cornish rock pooling

With picnic and buckets in hand, we set out, treading gingerly over seaweed and searching among the rocks. Within minutes, our friends are putting yesterday’s hasty tutorial on crabs into practice as they try picking them up safely. They score top marks on this and on working out whether the crabs are male or female from the shape of their tails. We find several species of crustacean, including this large squat lobster.

A squat lobster - galathea squamifera
A squat lobster – galathea squamifera

While our visitors search the shallow pools, finding anemones, fish, prawns and hermit crabs, Other Half and I walk out through slippery gullies towards the sea with Junior, taking photos and collecting interesting creatures for our visitors to see. I find a small rock with a beautiful covering of star ascidian.

As I look more closely I see flatworms moving across the sea squirts. They seem to be iridescent, flecked with glowing yellow spots. They have head tentacles, like a slug, with eye spots at the end. They’re fascinating creatures but very hard to identify to species level in the field.

A flat worm on star ascidian (botryllus schlosseri)
A flat worm on star ascidian (botryllus schlosseri)

I film hermit crabs fighting over food in the shape of a flat periwinkle. A minuscule shell runs across a rock and I lift it to find a hermit crab with hairy claws (Anapagurus sp.) inside.

This hermit crab was tiny - compare it to my thumb on the left!
This hermit crab was tiny – compare it to my thumb on the left!

In one area there are many shore urchins. They often seem to cluster together like this. I notice one has its tentacle feet out, reaching in all directions.

The purple-tipped spines of the shore urchin
The purple-tipped spines of the shore urchin

I collect a cushion star to show my friends but keep looking for larger starfish and brittle stars, knowing that this is what they most want to see. Large edible and montagu’s crabs scuttle around my feet, but I ignore them and keep hunting. As I lift a piece of bladderwrack, a rockling flaps and thrashes, making me leap out of my skin. It swims away and is gone in a second.

First meeting with a cushion star
First meeting with a cushion star

As I reach the end of the gully I turn a rock and discover echinoderm heaven. Large brittle stars are walking over the edge of the stone on spindly legs and right in the centre of the rock is a fair-sized spiny starfish.

The spiny starfish
The spiny starfish

I worry that I’ve left my visitors alone too long and that they’ll be bored, but I find them still completely engrossed in their search for crabs. They take turns to hold the various starfish and we put the spiny star in the bucket to watch it unfurl its hundreds of tentacle feet.

Spiny starfish glide on hundreds of tentacle feet
Spiny starfish glide on hundreds of tentacle feet

Our visitors are delighted with all they’ve found and seen. We’re already planning their next trip. And I’m pleased too, both that my friends have discovered the joy of rockpooling and seen starfish, but also that I found a flatworm I hadn’t seen before.

Is it normal to love worms? There are some amazing ones in the Cornish rock pools.

Other finds... a bootlace worm. These worms are many metres long when fully extended, but are usually found in a tangled ball like this.
Another worm find… a bootlace worm. These worms are many metres long when fully extended, but are usually found in a tangled ball like this.
Light bulb sea squirts. One of the jewels of the Cornish rock pools.
Light bulb sea squirts. One of the jewels of the Cornish rock pools.
Happiness is rock pooling - and we're already looking forward to doing it all again next year.
Happiness is rock pooling – and we’re already looking forward to doing it all again next year.

 

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