Brittle star -Ophiothrix fragilis - Wembury, Devon

Cross-Border Rockpooling with the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society

It sometimes feels like I don’t get out much – either socially or out of the county (Not that it’s a hardship to be in Cornwall!). So, I could barely contain my excitement at having the opportunity to attend the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society Conference in Plymouth. I packed my passport and set forth across the Tamar.

Not only did I mingle with the most amazing bunch of fellow marine wildlife obsessives and hear their latest findings, but the third day of the conference was spent rockpooling at Wembury in South Devon.

 

A prickle of Porcupines at work
A prickle of Porcupines at work at Wembury, Devon

While the environment at Wembury is similar to my home patch in South East Cornwall, a major difference is that Wembury has a marine centre, staffed by lovely people from the Devon Wildlife Trust. The centre promotes marine conservation and runs all sorts of public and educational events. It also provided a handy indoor base to set up some microscopes and a refreshment station. Luxury after my recent all-weather forays!

Coral, from the Marine Centre, was especially interested to know of any stalked jellyfish finds as past records suggest they used to be more abundant. Having spent the last few months doing stalked jellyfish surveys, I was starting to see them in my sleep, so I was happy to take a look.

Sure enough, there were plenty of stalked jellyfish there, the lower shore pools and gullies were ideal for them. One small clump of seaweed I looked at had six Calvadosia cruxmelitensis on it.

Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish at Wembury, Devon
Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish at Wembury, Devon

I also found several Craterolophus convolvulus, a species that I see less frequently, although it does occur in my home patch. It looks like it has four twisted coils of rope running down to the centre and has a wide base with a goblet-like profile.

A Craterolophus convoluvulus stalked jellydish at Wembury, Devon
A Craterolophus convoluvulus stalked jellydish at Wembury, Devon

 

Side view of a Craterolophus convolvulus stalked jellyfish at Wembury, Devon
Side view of a Craterolophus convolvulus stalked jellyfish at Wembury, Devon

This was my first visit to Wembury and I couldn’t bring myself to spend all my time looking at stalked jellyfish, lovely though they are. Having established there were lots of them, I set my mind to other things. 

Spotting a patch of a thick green, finger-like seaweed, Codium. I looked for the wonderful Photosynthesising sea slug (Elysia viridis). All my books say it loves nothing better than this seaweed, but so far I’ve always found them on other things. Today, for the first time, I discovered one that had clearly read the same book as me.

An Elysia vididis sea slug showing off its bright green spots and eating Codium seaweed just like it's supposed to!
An Elysia vididis sea slug showing off its bright green spots and eating Codium seaweed just like it’s supposed to!

These slugs retain chloroplasts from their food in their bodies, where they carry on photosynthesising to provide the slug with energy or other benefits. This one wasn’t a particularly vivid green, but it’s still pretty amazing to see a solar powered slug. 

Slugs were plentiful elsewhere on the shore too, although I didn’t come across anything particularly unusual. I loved this frilly little pair of Goniodoris nodosa.

Goniodoris nodosa sea slugs at Wembury, Devon
Goniodoris nodosa sea slugs at Wembury, Devon
A frilly sea slug - Goniodoris nodosa - at Wembury, Devon
A frilly sea slug – Goniodoris nodosa – at Wembury, Devon

This Berthella plumula was exploring the rocks and I saw the spawn of several species of sea slug, so there will soon be babies about!

Berthella plumula sea slug at Wembury, Devon
Berthella plumula sea slug at Wembury, Devon

In February, the only sea hares I could find were a few millimetres long. Today they’re several centimetres long and developing their adult leopard-spot colours.

Sea hare (Aplysia punctata) growing nicely at Wembury, Devon
Sea hare (Aplysia punctata) growing nicely at Wembury, Devon

The small clingfish species were abundant, but I didn’t attempt to check their teeth to see which species they were!

The books say to check the species by checking the teeth - not easy with a tiny clingfish like this one!
The books say to check the species by checking the teeth – not easy with a tiny clingfish like this one!

 

A small clingfish species (small headed or two-spot) at Wembury, Devon
A small clingfish species (small headed or two-spot) at Wembury, Devon

This male worm pipefish looked smart in his limpet-hat. He was carrying eggs in his belly-groove so I popped him straight back in his pool. 

Male pipefish with eggs wearing a limpet-shell hat at Wembury, Devon
Male Worm pipefish with eggs sporting a limpet-shell hat at Wembury, Devon

As you’d expect, there was no shortage of crabs. This tiny Anapagurus hyndmanni hermit crab caught my eye as it scuttled across the sand. They don’t grow more than about a centimetre long, but their right claw is about as long again and looks it’s wearing a huge white boxing glove. There were several around once I got my eye in.

Hermit crab (Anapgurus hyndmanni) showing it's huge white claw.
Hermit crab (Anapgurus hyndmanni) showing its huge white claw.

 

Anapagurus hyndmanni hermit crab at Wembury, Devon
Anapagurus hyndmanni hermit crab at Wembury, Devon

It was wonderful to share finds with other ‘Porcupines’, as members of the society refer to each other. The society is named after HMS Porcupine, although I’m more than a little vague as to why! One unusual discovery was this purple whelk, Raphitoma purpurea.

Raphitoma purpurea shell at Wembury, Devon
Raphitoma purpurea shell at Wembury, Devon

Inevitably I got carried away on the shore and didn’t think to have lunch until the tide was washing over my boots. By the time I’d gulped down a sandwich and some delicious M&S chocolate tiffin (a perk of having visited Plymouth!), all the Porcupines were assembled in the Marine Centre swapping notes and checking identifications. After a very pleasant half-hour checking other people’s stalked jelly photos and generally enthusing, it was time to cross the border back to Kernow once more.

I might not get to meet up with everyone like this very often – I’m pretty unlikely to make it to the next event in Newcastle for obvious reasons – but it’s inspiring to feel part of a national network of people who are all passionate about the same things as me.

So, a huge thank you goes to all the ‘Porcupines’ for making me welcome at my first conference, to Wembury Marine Centre and to my other half and Cornish Rockpools Junior for being patient with me while I nattered for hours about marine creatures with my new friends.

 Thanks also to you for sharing my adventures. Bonus photos follow for reading this far!

A lovely yellow Ophiothrix fragilis brittle star at Wembury, Devon
A lovely yellow Ophiothrix fragilis brittle star at Wembury, Devon
Close-up of a spiny starfish arm, Wembury, Devon
Close-up of a spiny starfish arm, Wembury, Devon
A black brittle star (Ophiocomina nigra) at Wembury, Devon
A black brittle star (Ophiocomina nigra) at Wembury, Devon
A Cornish clingfish over the border in Wembury, Devon
A Cornish clingfish over the border in Wembury, Devon

Happy rockpooling everyone!

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2 thoughts on “Cross-Border Rockpooling with the Porcupine Marine Natural History Society”

  1. Magnificent post. I wish I was freer to be able to enjoy such pursuits. Newcastle is a beautiful city. I studied Marine Biology there. There is a direct train from Penzance. Don’t write it off. Start saving!

    I genuinely derive a vicarious pleasure from your posts. Keep them coming.

    Like

    1. Thanks Scooj for your lovely comment – I’m so pleased you enjoy reading about my rockpool adventures (more coming soon – I’ve found some fabulous creatures during this week’s low tides!). Newcastle is great – I’ve not been for years and have never had the opportunity to explore that coast. I probably can’t do the Porcupine trip this time but I’ll put it on the list! I often catch the Glasgow train to go to Plymouth with Junior … lots of places along its route we’re hoping to go sometime soon. Scotland has some fabulous rockpooling too. I will indeed have to save up! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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