A velvet swimming crab (devil crab) hiding in the sand.

Top 5 Fierce(ish) Rockpool Creatures

As you might imagine, we’re fans of nature documentaries in this house and we’re all looking forward to watching Steve Backshall’s new series, Fierce. It’s got me and Cornish Rockpools Junior thinking about opportunities to meet ‘fierce’ wild creatures closer to home.

Of course, these animals aren’t exactly fierce, they’re just equipped to survive the evolutionary arms race with attitudes, weapons and chemicals that aren’t very human-friendly.

You don’t need a plane, a film crew and a ton of equipment to seek out an encounter with a well-armed rockpool ninja. This weekend’s massive low tides are the perfect opportunity to head out onto the shore and check out our top 5 fierce(ish) rockpool creatures.

So, check the tide times, grab a bucket, put on your wellies and take a look…

5. Small spotted catshark

Scyliorhinus canicula - small spotted catshark or dogfish stranded in a Cornish rock pool
Scyliorhinus canicula – small spotted catshark, also known as dogfish – stranded in a Cornish rock pool

These small sharks, often known as dogfish, sometimes become stranded in pools during the very lowest of tides. They’re not at all aggressive, but it’ll sound impressive that you’ve met one. They have incredibly rough skin that used to be used as sandpaper. In some places you can also find their egg cases and those of their larger cousin, the nursehound, attached to seaweed. They take around 7-9 months to hatch out so never detach the egg case from the weed.

The developing greater spotted catshark can be seen at the bottom of the eggcase
The developing greater spotted catshark can be seen at the bottom of this eggcase

4. Snakelocks anemone

This snakelocks anemone looks like it's had a fright - the tentacles were being picked up by the current
This snakelocks anemone looks like it’s had a fright – the tentacles are being picked up by the current

This anemone is common in rockpools all around Cornwall. It’s easy to see how it gets its name from its long snake-like tentacles, which are usually green with purple tips, but sometimes a dull-brown. They’re from the same family as jellyfish and have stinging cells which shoot poisonous harpoons into anything that touches their tentacles. It’s best not to touch this anemone as some people have a reaction to the sting. If you do touch one be sure not to rub your eyes because stinging cells can attach to your skin – wash your hands as soon as you can.

Cornish Rock Pools Junior is convinced snakelocks anemones can eat your foot. That’s unlikely, but watch what they do to this fly…

3. Worms

Worms are often buried in sand and mud burrows - if disturbed they can shoot out their jaws and give a nasty nip.
Worms like this ragworm are often buried in sand and mud burrows – if disturbed they can shoot out their jaws and give a nasty nip.

An unlikely contender, but there are several species of worm on the shore that can be pretty fearsome, especially the larger ragworms. These animals have an extendible jaw that can shoot out and deliver a painful bite. Others, like the bootlace worm secrete a toxic mucus. Handle with care!

Other finds... a bootlace worm. These worms are many metres long when fully extended, but are usually found in a tangled ball like this.
A bootlace worm. These worms are many metres long when fully extended, but are usually found in a tangled ball like this.

2. Compass jellyfish

Compass jellyfish - showing its distinctive markings
Compass jellyfish – showing its distinctive markings

Like the anemone, this jellyfish is armed with lots of nematocysts (stinging cells), but far more powerful. These jellies with their distinctive V-shape compass markings can give you a painful sting. Jellyfish don’t live in the rockpools but are often washed in by the winds and tides, especially in the summer and autumn months. They’re beautiful creatures and well worth a look, but remember not to get close or to put your hands in the water – their tentacles can be hard to see, very long and can become detatched from the main jellyfish, so it’s not worth the risk (yes, that’s talking from experience… I’m a slow learner). There are lots of different species of jellyfish and some, including the massive barrel jellyfish, are harmless, but if you’re not sure, stay clear!

Jellyfish tentacles can be hard to see, so be careful not to put your hands in a pool that has a jellyfish in it (e.g. to take underwater photos of tentacles like this one!)
Jellyfish tentacles can be hard to see. It’s best not to put your hands in a pool that has a jellyfish in it (e.g. to take underwater photos of tentacles like this one!)

1. Devil crab (Velvet Swimming Crab)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A velvet swimming crab (devil crab) shows off its red eyes.

The top fierce creature award, as voted by Cornish Rock Pools Junior who will not go near them, is [insert fanfare of your choice here]… the velvet swimming crab. This crab, known by Junior and many others who’ve met it as the ‘devil crab’, is afraid of nothing and is always quick to use its pincers. Their dark shells and gleaming red eyes give these crabs a sinister look to match their temperament. They’re brilliantly suited to hunting in the rockpools and shallow seas. If you dare to look closely at one (see ‘How to pick up a crab’), you’ll see that their stripy back legs are flattened into paddles, making them excellent swimmers. Watch out for them lurking buried in the sand, with only those red eyes showing.

As soon as you approach a velvet swimming crab will stand on its back legs, its claws raised, ready for action.
As soon as you approach a velvet swimming crab will stand on its back legs, its claws raised, ready for battle.

There are plenty more dangerous creatures, such as the weever fish and the Portuguese man o’ war, that didn’t make our list because we so rarely see them in the rock pools.

It almost goes without saying that by far the most dangerous creature on the shore is us humans. Marine litter, warming seas, pollutants, overfishing and habitat destruction all threaten our amazing marine life. Please do your bit every time you visit the shore:

  • If you turn any rocks replace them gently, the right way up.
  • Avoid using nets that can harm creatures and tread carefully.
  • If you catch any creatures, keep them in plenty of sea water and return them quickly to where you found them.
  • Don’t leave any litter behind and be aware that sun cream isn’t good for wildlife.
  • Every time you visit a beach take 2 minutes to pick up any rubbish you see.

Have fun and please do let me know what creatures you meet (fierce or otherwise) in the Cornish rock pools.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s