Fish eggs, each one a nearly-developed animal with colourful eyes.

Looking Rock Pools in the Eyes

Is there anywhere better in the UK to get up close to an array of wild animals than the rock pools? When the tides and weather come together, as they did this weekend, the rockpool creatures are hard to miss. There are eyes staring back at you from every shimmering pool.

This clump of fish eggs was dangling among some red Lomentaria seaweed. Through my camera lens the dark, metallic specks in the eggs were magnified and I could see hundreds of fish eyes staring out at me.

Fish eggs, each one a nearly-developed animal with colourful eyes.
Fish eggs, each one a nearly-developed animal with colourful eyes.

As Cornish Rock Pools junior and I moved a rock, he shrieked with excitement. He knows better than to get close to a ‘devil’ crab –  velvet swimming crab – but we watched it sculling through the shallow water. It buried itself there with just its eyes showing.

The unmistakeable red eyes of the velvet swimming crab.
The unmistakeable red eyes of the velvet swimming crab.
This shot of the velvet swimming crab's back leg shows why it's such a great swimmer. The flat paddle and side hairs propel it through the water at great speed.
This shot of the velvet swimming crab’s back leg shows why it’s such a great swimmer. The flat paddle and side hairs propel it through the water at great speed.

It was hard to see the eyes on the next creature we found – or even to tell if it was anything at all. Still, if a shell or some seaweed starts running off, it’s a good sign there’s an animal in it. This wriggling piece of seaweed turned out to be a small species of spider crab – a decorator crab. This one was beautifully adorned with seaweed it had collected. The left claw is clearly visible in this photo and the eyestalks are just behind it (honest!).

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A decorator spider crab (macropodia sp.) well-covered in seaweed.

A highlight of this weekend’s rockpooling was the range of sea slugs. Some species were so small they looked like nothing more than a spot of jelly on a rock. Out of the water they lose all of their structure so we always put them in a shallow tray of water to watch them fluff up into their true selves.

An Aeolidiella alderi sea slug. This slug has a distinctive white ruff of short cerrata (tentacles) behind its head.
An Aeolidiella alderi sea slug. This slug has a distinctive white ruff of short cerrata (tentacles) behind its head.
Limacia clavigera sea slug. This slug has striking orange-tipped clubs all around its body, with matching feathery gills on its back and ridged rhinophores (like antennae).
Limacia clavigera sea slug. This slug has striking orange-tipped clubs all around its semi-transparent body, with matching feathery gills on its back and ridged rhinophores (like antennae).
This plump sheep slug (Aeolidia papillosa) was so fluffy and soft that one of Cornish Rock Pools junior's friends fell in love with it.
This plump sheep slug (Aeolidia papillosa) was so fluffy and soft that one of Cornish Rock Pools junior’s friends fell in love with it.
Out of the water, sea slugs appear to be blobs of jelly. In the water they are transformed.
Out of the water, sea slugs appear to be blobs of jelly. In the water they are transformed.

The rockpools were so full of life in the spring sunshine that we could hardly move for crabs running around our feet and anemones nestling in the sand.

An especially red dahlia anemone buried in the sand.
An especially red dahlia anemone buried in the sand.

Right at the end of our rockpooling session I pulled back some seaweed and moved in close to the rock, looking for tiny sea slugs. It took me several seconds to realise how close my nose was to this hefty crab (at which point I gave an unprofessional shriek and nearly fell over backwards).

A large edible crab in a crevice.
A large edible crab in a crevice.

Fortunately it was just an edible crab. This species is generally placid and has calm green eyes, unlike the red-eyed devil crab which would probably have taken my nose and run off with it!

There were more eyes looking at us out of the pools than I can write about here, from huge spider crabs to the tiny sea spiders – as well as some creatures that had no visible eyes at all. This is a wonderful time of year in the rock pools and we’re already looking forward to the next spring tides so we can see who we meet next.

Cornish rock pools junior found this lively ragworm that swam so vigorously it almost jumped out of the pot.
Cornish rock pools junior found this lively ragworm that swam so vigorously it almost jumped out of the pot.

 

 

 

 

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