Cornish rockpools in Looe

Rockpooling Heaven (And a downpour)

The sun is shining and, for the first time in months, I can feel the warmth on my face. With calm seas, the tide has run out even further than I hoped, rockpooling conditions here in Looe are near-perfect. There are ominous clouds looming over the hills behind me, but I choose not to look at them.

Perfect - this sheltered gully has weathered the storms.
Perfect – this sheltered gully has weathered the storms.

After the fierce storms, I half expect to find the rockpools empty, scoured of life, but I couldn’t be more wrong. I explore an area of my local shore in Looe that I don’t often visit and within minutes I have found my new favourite rockpooling spot, a gully that’s visibly wriggling with life.

I’ve always loved finding little pink-purse shaped cowrie shells and they seem common on this sheltered stretch of rocks. The animal inside is just as pretty and colourful as the shell, a sunset orange foot laced with white patterns emerges from a leopard-spotted mantle.

Three spot cowrie (trivia monacha) showing its lovely colours
Three spot cowrie (trivia monacha) showing its lovely colours as it tucks into a colonial sea squirt.

In the lee of a boulder, I spot a tiny creature sheltering on a small stone. It takes me a few seconds to realise it’s a fish, at first glance it looks more like a tadpole or worm. The small eyes and tapering tail are distinctive. This is a Montagu’s sea snail (Liparis montagui), possibly the strangest name in the UK fish world.

A montagu's sea snail (fish), relaxing on a pebble. (Liparis montagui)
A montagu’s sea snail (fish), relaxing on a pebble. (Liparis montagui)

Like the more commonly-seen clingfish, the pelvic fins of these fish form a sucker on their underside, which allows them to secure themselves to stones.

Among a clump of small ‘sausage-weed’ seaweed (Lomentaria articulata), a white-gloved claw waves at me. Well, I have to squint and lean in close to see it, this little hermit crab (Anapagurus hyndmanni) would fit on my fingernail with room to spare.

Anapagurus hyndmanni - a small species of hermit crab - showing its distinctive large white claw.
Anapagurus hyndmanni – a small species of hermit crab – showing its distinctive large white claw.

It has one claw much larger than the other. I have no idea why the claw is white, but it makes it easy to spot.

Anapagurus hyndmanni hermit crab exploring the sausage-weed.
Anapagurus hyndmanni hermit crab exploring the sausage-weed.

Close by some moving seaweed catches my eye. It turns out to be a small spider crab (Macropodia sp.). It must have spent hours arranging its seaweed camouflage. I’d probably have to clear it all off to be sure of its exact species, so I leave it as it is.

A small species of spider crab (Macropodia sp.) which has decorated itself in seaweed for camouflage.
A small species of spider crab (Macropodia sp.) which has decorated itself in seaweed for camouflage.

Some sea slugs are already on the shore and will be laying their eggs soon. I find several creamy-yellow ‘plumed Berthas’ (Berthella plumula) and a large ‘sheep slug’ (Aeolidia papillosa) lurking under a rock.

'Plumed Bertha' - A berthella plumula sea slug clings to a rock.
‘Plumed Bertha’ – A berthella plumula sea slug clings to a rock.
In water the cerrata on the 'sheep' slug's back puff up like wool. (Aeolidia papillosa)
In water the cerrata on the ‘sheep’ slug’s back puff up like wool. (Aeolidia papillosa)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Lamellaria perspicua in one place. They look more like snails than slugs; like spots of jelly on the rock. When submerged, they extend two small head tentacles and a proboscis.

Lamellaria perspicua - a type of sea snail with an internal shell.
Lamellaria perspicua – a type of sea snail with an internal shell.

Among all these wonderful finds, the usual busy community of Xantho crabs, broad clawed porcelain crabs, worm pipefish, painted topshells, sponges, brittle stars and more abounds.

Even when the clouds arrive and let loose a downpour of rain and hail, I carry on taking photos. The sun returns and my waterproofs steam, clouding my camera lens, but I keep going until the sea begins to lap in. As I walk away I’m already looking forward to returning on the next spring tides. Who knows what I’ll find?

Broad-clawed porcelain crab
Broad-clawed porcelain crab
Xantho incises crab - this one hasn't shed its shell for a while and has spirorbis worms growing on it.
Xantho incises crab – this one hasn’t shed its shell for a while and has spirorbis worms growing on it.
Rough periwinkle (Littorina saxatilis)
Rough periwinkle (Littorina saxatilis)

 

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8 thoughts on “Rockpooling Heaven (And a downpour)”

  1. Hi Heather, Just want ed to say Hi and how much we enjoy your blogs and your boundless enthusiasm for the intertidal zone and the creatures therein! Could you let me know when you are involved in any rock pooling sessions this year so I can point guests and us in your direction please? Best wishes Pat

    Sent from my iPad

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    1. Hi Pat, Thank you so much for following my posts, I’m very pleased you’re enjoying them. I’m just working out which sessions I’ll be around for this year, but I’ll be at most of the Looe Marine Conservation Group events and some of the other Cornwall Wildlife Trust ones. I hope we can all meet up again sometime this summer – maybe in Looe this time? Drop me a line any time. All the best, Heather

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    1. Thanks Amanda, that’s lovely feedback. I learn lots by writing the blog too – there’s always something new. The little spider crabs are fascinating – it’s very odd seeing a piece of seaweed start to walk about, which is the only way to spot them in the pools.

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