Category Archives: Wildlife

Surprises in the rock pools

Rock pooling can be an emotional experience and I’ve experienced everything from happiness to horror in the last couple of weeks. The arrival of warmer weather has brought out a joyous burst of extraordinary colours in the pools and plenty of surprises too.

I’ve picked out some of the best below, but I’d suggest you put down your food before you read the last one.

Colours in the rock pools at Porth Mear - painted topshell
Colours in the rock pools at Porth Mear – painted topshell

It’s never easy to run in knee-deep water and across slippery rocks wearing wellies, but I  came close to setting a new land-speed record after hearing the cry of, ‘Octopus!’ from across the shore at Lee Bay.

The timing couldn’t have been better. I was teaching a Coastal Creatures workshop on molluscs in North Devon and here was the mollusc I’d been hoping to find for decades.

Experienced local rock pooler, Rob Durrant of Coastwise North Devon, found the Curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa) hiding under a rock. With quick thinking, he scooped it into a transparent pot where it demonstrated its great ability to change shape and colour, blanching almost to white when we placed it in a white bucket.

Curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa). Cephalopod molluscs have complex eyes which evolved completely separately from our own eyes and have a distinctive long pupil
Curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa). Cephalopod molluscs have complex eyes which evolved completely separately from our own eyes and have a distinctive long pupil. Photo by Rob Durrant.
Curled octopus looking paler as we placed it in a white bucket - it also changed its skin texture.
Curled octopus looking paler as we placed it in a white bucket – it also changed its skin texture.

Octopi are natural escape artists. Because they have no bones, they can squeeze into incredibly tight spots. This one seemed to enjoy the safety of its pot and it took some effort to persuade it to swim free in the pool.

Curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa). This species has a single line of suckers down its arms, which tend to curl at the tips.
Curled octopus (Eledone cirrhosa). This species has a single line of suckers down its arms, which tend to curl at the tips. Photo by Rob Durrant.

There were also some surprises on a recent Looe Marine Conservation Group rock pool ramble at Hannafore Beach. It’s an amazing location in a Marine Conservation Zone, so we never know what will turn up.

One of the volunteers asked me to verify what species of pipefish a participant had found. The fish did have a long snout like a pipefish, but on closer inspection I could see its body was thickened in the middle, and in front of its dorsal fin was a row of flattened spines.

15-spined Stickleback (Spinachia spinachia) in Looe
15-spined Stickleback (Spinachia spinachia) in Looe

The fifteen-spined stickleback (Spinachia spinachia) is a species I’ve only seen a couple of times before. It’s elusive and easily overlooked, but it is a remarkable fish. In addition to having the most beautiful, tiny mouth, it also has an fascinating life cycle. The male fish builds a nest, arranging fronds of seaweed just-so before the female lays her eggs in it. The female fish dies soon after laying, leaving her mate to guard the nest of eggs until they hatch.

15-spined stickleback about to be returned to its pool
15-spined stickleback about to be returned to its pool

On the same day, we had another surprise, a corkwing wrasse swam straight into Other Half’s bucket.

‘There’s something weird on it,’ he said, thrusting the bucket towards me.

Inside the bucket, a fish with bold turquoise stripes across its face was swimming at an awkward angle, looking at me through a wide orange eye. Pretty though it was, it was something just behind its eye that Other Half was pointing at. He needn’t have bothered: I was already staring at it.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it, but I couldn’t help looking.

No doubt, like me, you’ve heard of fish lice. They’re generally tiny copepods, a kind of swimming baked bean, that attach to a fish and suck its blood. They’re the sort of thing that can put you off your lunch, but you accept it’s part of nature.

This thing, on the other hand, was straight out of an alien movie.

Corkwing wrasse with parasitic isopods (Anilocra physodes)
Corkwing wrasse with parasitic isopods (Anilocra physodes)

Far from tiny, this parasite was at least a quarter of the length of the fish.

It was a giant, woodlouse-like animal, a marine isopod, clamped onto the fish by its jaws. On closer inspection, there were other, smaller isopods of the same sort on the fish.

Enough to put you off your food - Anilocra physodes parasitic isopods feeding on the wrasse.
Enough to put you off your food – Anilocra physodes parasitic isopods feeding on the wrasse.

I’d never seen anything like it – and would be happy not to again. I’ve come across many grim feeding habits on the shore, but never imagined that I’d see a parasite this large.

It was the find of the day, even if it did make me feel a touch nauseous.

Several people at the ramble asked if we should remove the parasite. However horrific it looks to us, all these animals are part of the ecosystem and they have to feed, so it’s best not to interfere.

It turns out that there are a couple of species of isopod that target wrasse. This one is Anilocra physodes, confirmed by David Fenwick of Aphotomarine. David suggests looking out for another isopod that replaces the tongue in weever fish. Yes, you read that right! I have no idea how to go about looking in the mouths of weever fish.

It goes to show that there’s no end of surprises on the shore.

To allow you to get back to your food, here are some less alarming rock pool finds from the recent spring tides.

Happy rock pooling!

A green shore urchin with purple-tipped spines
A green shore urchin with purple-tipped spines
Xantho hydrophilus - the furrowed crab - with brown claws
Xantho hydrophilus crab –  with brown claws
Scorpion fish eggs
Scorpion fish eggs

Warming up for the Weekend

Spring tides and slightly more spring-like weather might finally coincide this weekend, so I’m preparing for a big weekend of rock pooling. If all goes to plan, I’ll be reporting back next week. In the meantime, I’m readying my waterproofs, planning which beach I’ll go to according to the wind direction and sorting out my photos from the last month. And of course, I’ll be at the Looe Marine Conservation Group Rock Pool Ramble on Monday at Hannafore beach, so maybe I’ll see you there?

One beach I’m hoping to visit on Saturday is Millendreath. This sheltered south coast beach has an interesting geological history. Somewhere under the sand is a submerged ancient forest. Whether the nutrients come from there, drift along from the Looe river, or both, this beach has a unique fauna and is always full of surprises.

Pheasant shell at Millendreath
Pheasant shell at Millendreath

In the past I’ve found masked crabs, weever fish and unusual swimming crabs here. On my visit last week, it was all about the sea slugs and cucumbers.

In the chilly breeze it felt less than spring-like, but these things seem not to bother the rock pool creatures. Sea lemons, a type of sea slug with a big circle of feathery gills on their back and pocked citrus-like skin, were everywhere.

Sea lemons - a type of sea slug - enjoying each other's company.
Sea lemons – a type of sea slug – enjoying each other’s company.

And so was their spawn.

A spiral of sea lemon spawn at Millendreath
A spiral of sea lemon spawn at Millendreath

A species that seems to love the conditions here is the brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei, which likes to hide away in holes in the rock with just its retracted tentacles sticking out. When these are fully extended they have a frilly, carrot-top appearance, but at low tide all we see is a yellow and brown blob.

Brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei, at Millendreath
Brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei, at Millendreath
The tip of a brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei
The tip of a brown sea cucumber, Aslia lefevrei

Among the seaweed at the edge of the shore, I spotted a fleck of orange. Old seaweeds often turn bright colours as they die back, but this fleck wasn’t attached to anything. After fumbling about in the cold water for as long as I could bear, I managed to scoop the fleck up and tip it into a petri dish.

Much of my time on the shore is spent staring at things, wondering if they’re animals or just tricks of the imagination. Often they’re nothing, but this one was definitely a something.

My blob - a Eubranchus farrani sea slug with 20p for scale
My blob – a Eubranchus farrani sea slug with 20p for scale

As it settled in the water, the blob began to unfurl and then to secure itself to the dish. It was definitely a sea slug, although still quite hard to see as you can tell from its size compared to the 20p piece.

Eubranchus farrani sea slug - close-up
Eubranchus farrani sea slug – close-up

The chunky cerrata on its back and the orange on its body were typical of the species, a Eubranchus farrani. By far the smallest one I’ve ever seen.

Conditions were too cold to spend any longer with my hands in the water, so I retreated to the upper shore to look for anemones with Junior and to let him dig around the stream. Perhaps one day he’ll dig down to the submerged forest?

Beadlet anemone in a pool near the top of the shore, Millendreath
Beadlet anemone in a pool near the top of the shore, Millendreath

Even on uninviting, cold days, there are always things to find. Millendreath never fails to surprise me. Who knows what will turn up this weekend? Conditions should be easier, but I’m taking no chances. Other half got a big thermos flask for his birthday and I’ll be filling it with hot chocolate before we go out!

Xantho hydrophilus crab
Xantho hydrophilus crab

 

Sneaky Rockpooling at Bream Cove

I wasn’t supposed to be rock pooling at all. It was Other Half’s birthday and we were joining my parents for a walk and lunch to also celebrate my dad’s birthday from the day before. To add to the celebration list, my parents were in the middle of their golden wedding anniversary break at the beautiful Meudon Hotel near the Helford river.

I did well at first, catching up on my parents’ late-night dash across the county to reach the hotel before the snow arrived, while we wandered in the gardens. We stared into the lush ponds and spotted a couple of newts and lots of tadpoles (because it was a family event, nothing like rock pooling).

As we wound our way down the valley we could see the remnants of the snow nestling among the fronds of the tree ferns. We could also see something else glinting in the distance. The sea.

Junior and I picked up the pace. We both knew there was a beach at the end of the path. He was clutching his spade ready for action and I had my camera in my pocket, just in case you understand…

Examining the geology in the cliffs at Bream Cove (I'm already drifting towards the pools).
Examining the geology in the cliffs at Bream Cove (I’m already drifting towards the pools).

While I was talking to Mum on the beach, we happened to drift ever-closer to the rock pools and, well… I couldn’t help myself!

At Bream Cove, like other beaches in this area, the folds and channels in the rocks create lovely gullies and pools. There was no shortage of wildlife to be found on the overhangs and in the sand at the base of the pools.

Each time we approached a new pool a flicker of movement caught my eye. At first I assumed it to be prawns or perhaps small blennies scooting out of sight, then I spotted the tubes.

Fanworm tubes built from sand among the topshells at Bream Cove.
Fanworm tubes built from sand among the topshells at Bream Cove.

The Acromegalomma vesiculosum fanworms that build these constructions to camouflage and protect themselves are extremely hard to photograph. On the end of each long feathery arm of their fan, they have a dark eyespot. As soon as they sense a change in the light, they retract back into their tubes at lightning speed.

I treated mum to a Cornish Rock Pools comedy spectacle as I crawled about on the rocks attempting to approach them from all different angles. No matter what I tried, the fan worms nearly always retracted before I could get close enough to focus and then stayed stubbornly inside their tubes.

Acromegalomma vesiculosum fan worm - my best shot
Acromegalomma vesiculosum fan worm – my best shot

This beach has a wonderful collection of anemones; the whole area is great for them. In a single pool I found snakelocks anemones, beadlet anemones, a dahlia anemone and a daisy anemone. Like the fanworms, the daisy anemones do a quick disappearing trick when disturbed.

Daisy anemone
Daisy anemone

My favourite find of the day was this Harbour crab. All the books tell me it’s a common species, but this was the first one I have ever seen.

Harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator) at Bream Cove
Harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator) at Bream Cove

Like other swimming crabs they have flattened back legs, which act as paddles. In this crab the paddles are a bright blue or purple. Best of all were the eyes, which bulged out like yellow lamps. As I watched the crab demonstrated how it could swivel each eye separately in all directions . A great party trick.

The distinctive blue paddle on the back leg of the harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator).
The distinctive blue paddle on the back leg of the harbour crab (Liocarcinus depurator).

Nearby, Other Half (who had wisely decided the only way to get my attention on his birthday was to join me in the rock pools) found this mystery blob. It was around 10cm long and seemingly attached to the seaweed.

The mystery blob
The mystery blob

It looked vaguely familiar but I didn’t have a clue why. The only white jelly-like blob as big as this that I could think of was squid eggs, which normally come in big clusters, but it looked all wrong.

With the miracle of modern technology, I soon had the answer. The amazing Seasearch Identifications Group on Facebook are poised at their keyboards any time of day of night, ready to identify anything that’s found, no matter how obscure.

Within minutes of posting, I had the answer. Mystery blob was a syphon from a large bivalve mollusc, probably a razor clam or otter shell.

Solved - this is the syphon of a large clam shell, e.g. Razor shell.
Solved – this is the syphon of a large clam shell, e.g. Razor shell.

Quite what it was doing tangled in seaweed halfway up a rock, I’ll never know, but as soon as I saw the answer I knew why it had looked so familiar. Huge thanks to David Fenwick who runs the brilliant Aphotomarine species identification site, which is also well worth a visit any time you’re struggling to identify something.

Another great little crustacean find was this St Piran’s Crab.

St Piran's Hermit Crab (Clibanarius erythropus) showing its equal-sized claws
St Piran’s Hermit Crab (Clibanarius erythropus) showing its equal-sized claws

Since they reappeared in Cornwall a couple of years back, they’ve been popping up everywhere. I only saw one, but with plenty of empty shells around, I’m sure there must have been others.

St Piran's Hermit crab on the move with its black and white eyes sticking out.
St Piran’s Hermit crab on the move with its black and white eyes sticking out.

The tide was falling beautifully and I could see more pools emerging. I had to accept, though, that if I wanted my family to ever speak to me again, I’d better tear myself away from the rock pools for the birthday lunch.

Bream Cove, like so many others on this wonderful stretch of coastline between Falmouth and the Helford, is firmly on my return visit list. There aren’t any facilities at the beach, but you can always pop up to the Meudon Hotel for a luxury cream tea!

I’ll leave you with a few more photos from my sneaky rockpooling excursion.

A striped venus shell (Chamelea gallina). There were lots of these living in the sand.
A striped venus shell (Chamelea gallina). There were lots of these living in the sand.
The moult of a Hairy crab (Pilumnus hirtellus)
Hairy crab (Pilumnus hirtellus)
Painted topshell from above - the patterns make my eyes go funny!
Painted topshell from above – the patterns make my eyes go funny!
Dahlia anemone with tentacles partly retracted - the column is sticky so is covered with fragments of shell.
Dahlia anemone with tentacles partly retracted – the column is sticky so is covered with fragments of shell.
Bream Cove looking towards Falmouth.
An overcast Bream Cove looking towards Falmouth.

Fifteen Minute Rockpool Challenge (and some mutants)

I’m not sure who cancelled spring, but I’m not impressed. Yet again, the spring tides are accompanied by ear-numbing winds and a flurry of snow. Just the thought of plunging my hands into the pools makes my fingers ache, and yet, like the fool I am, I wade into the pools to see what’s there.

Due to my reluctance to leave my warm house, it’s half-past low tide by the time I hit the beach. The easterly winds are dashing the waves against the rocks and the gully I’d hoped to explore is well and truly submerged. All that’s left is an average-looking pool.

My average-looking pool for the 15 minute challenge
My average-looking pool for the 15 minute challenge

I’m tempted to give up and go home, but I’m always telling people that there’s something in every pool. That you just need to go slowly and look closely. I set myself a 15 minute challenge to find as many species as I can.

One of my first discoveries is this wonderful mutant cushion star. According to the books, these have five arms. Clearly this one hasn’t read the books. At some point it has lost one or more of its arms and in an incredible feat of regeneration it has sprouted an excess of new ones.

A Cushion star trying to pass as a seven-arm starfish.
A Cushion star trying to pass as a Seven-arm starfish.

In fact, this cushion star has put so much energy into sprouting arms that it now has a total of seven arms. I do sometimes see another species, the Seven-armed starfish, but they are bright orange and have longer arms so I’m not fooled. It’s a nice try though.

There are lots of molluscs including several colourful painted topshells.

Painted topshell
Painted topshell

Nearby, a colony of dog whelks huddles in a crack in the rock, around their yellow egg capsules.

A colony of dog whelks with their yellow egg capsules
A colony of dog whelks with their yellow egg capsules

It’s hard to see through the wind-rippled water into the tangled seaweed below, but this Calvadosia campanulata stalked jellyfish catches my eye. Its bright-white stinging cells stand out among the pink and red seaweed fronds.

Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish
Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish

There are several more stalked jellies, including this Haliclystus octoradiatus. This species has a blob between each pair of arms, which acts as a sucker (‘primary tentacle’)  allowing the jelly to flip upside down and cartwheel along the seaweed. This one seems to have two suckers between some of its arms. It also has an extra arm (nine arms instead of 8).

I start to wonder if this pool is going to be full of mutants with extra arms and tentacles.

Another mutant - a nine-armed Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish with some extra primary tentacles.
Another mutant – a nine-armed Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish with some extra primary tentacles.

The waves are breaking over the rocks and splashing over my back and the water level is rising precariously close to the top of my wellies. I take a few more quick photos of some wriggling worms, strawberry anemones and a banded chink shell just a few millimetres long.

Banded chink shell
Banded chink shell (Lacuna vincta)

As I leave the pool, I find a Saddle oyster shell. These small oysters attach to the underside of rocks and have round hole in the upper valve.

Inside of a saddle oyster shell showing its incredible mother-of-pearl colours
Inside of a saddle oyster shell showing its incredible mother-of-pearl colours

It may be a grey day, but the inside of the shell is coated in the most brilliant mother-of-pearl, shining with every colour of the rainbow. I’ll take it as a sign that spring’s on its way.

 

A Surprise Sea Slug

Even my family look at me strangely when I suggest rock pooling in this weather. The Met Office reckons it’s going to turn out fine, but the wind is flinging water straight into our faces and the beach is deserted. We huddle down on some damp rocks and rush to eat our pasties before the rain turns the pastry soggy.

“I wonder if people realise what you go through to put pretty pictures on your blog?” Other Half says.

I nod, watching the waves crashing onto the shore and thinking that it’s worse than that. In these conditions I’m unlikely to find much, let alone manage pretty pictures.

Fortunately, I’m wrong.

Cornish Rock Pools in Looe - fuelled by rain-soaked pasties
Cornish Rock Pools in Looe – fuelled by rain-soaked pasties

After a quarter of an hour of staring into holes in the rock, taking lots of rain-blurred photos and a few passable ones of common crab and barnacles species, I’ve established that my waterproofs are anything but waterproof. If it’s possible, the rain is getting heavier.

Volcano barnacle
Volcano barnacle

Cornish Rock Pools Junior and his dad have wandered off and are probably reaching their tolerance limit. I find a stalked jellyfish and think that’s likely to be the most exciting find of the day.

A stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) in a pool
A stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) in a pool

I lift the edge of one last stone. There are some thick yellow sponges and the rock is crusted over with bryozoans. Broad-clawed porcelain crabs are scuttling along and there are little banded chink shells. On the far side is a spot, maybe half a centimetre across. It’s hard to make it out, but it has a blue-ish tinge and a lined appearance, like an anemone out of the water.

I think it’s a sea slug, but it’s far too delicate to pick off the rock and even if I do there’s nowhere to put it. I need to see it in water otherwise it’s just a blob of jelly. There’s no chance of that here at the base of the gully where the waves are pounding in, so I heave the boulder up the shore and lower the side with the slug into the nearest pool.

Facelina auriculata sea slug unfurls its tentacles and cerrata in the water.
Facelina auriculata sea slug unfurls its tentacles and cerata in the water.

Shelter’s hard to come by. The surface of the pool distorts with every gust of wind and the rain goes up the back of my coat and into my ears as I lean over to hold the rock in position. Straight away, I know this is definitely a sea slug. In the water, its cerata pop up all over its back and long tentacles and rhinophores unfurl around its head.

This is the sort of colourful, beautiful slug that I’m always hoping to find and only rarely do. Under the camera it has striking red lines and markings up its cerata, white stripes down its head and an iridescent blue sheen that changes as it moves.

Facelina auriculata - the red patch behind its head is the oesophagus
Facelina auriculata – the red patch behind its head is the oesophagus

This is a new slug to me and I can’t wait to look it up when I get home to check the exact species. In the meantime, I take as many photos as I can before hauling the rock back to the same spot where I found it. That done, I rush up the beach to tell my Other Half, Cornish Rock Pools Junior and everyone else I see that day about how amazing my sea slug was.

Facelina auriculata sea slug - from different angles the colours seem to change.
Facelina auriculata sea slug – from different angles the colours seem to change.

Thanks to my pile of identification books and the quick responses of the hugely knowledgeable members of the NE Atlantic Nudibranchs forum on Facebook, I soon have it confirmed as Facelina auriculata (previously known as Facelina coronata).

This slug is found around many coasts of the UK, and is meant to feed on hydroids, although I didn’t see many in the vicinity of this one. I’m very lucky to find it intertidally on such an average tide.

If you think rock pooling isn’t a normal sort of thing to do in January, I can understand that. You’re probably right and I think my family would agree with you, but you never know what’s going to turn up next in the Cornish Rock Pools.

Sometimes it’s worth braving the horizontal rain just in case.

See - it's lovely out there! Looe rock pooling in January.
See – it’s lovely out there! Looe rock pooling in January.
A Xantho pilipes crab - they vary in colour but always have hairy back legs.
A Xantho pilipes crab – they vary in colour but always have hairy back legs.
And did I mention I found a sea slug? So excited...
And did I mention I found a sea slug? So excited…

A Year in the Cornish Rockpools – 2017 Highlights

Happy New Year everyone! Having started 2018 in bed with flu, I’m hoping this year’s going to improve as it goes along. The sun’s shining and there are some good tides later in the week, so I’m feeling hopeful.

In the meantime, I’m cheering myself up looking back at some of the incredible creatures I met in the Cornish rock pools last year.

I hope you enjoy last year’s highlights and I’m looking forward to seeing what 2018 brings.

January

'Sea potato' - these little urchins are covered in spines when alive. They bury themselves in muddy sand but sometimes get washed to the surface in storms.
‘Sea potato’ – these little urchins are covered in spines when alive. They bury themselves in muddy sand but sometimes get washed to the surface in storms.

Feburary

My unexpected encounter with 'Bob' the lobster in February was one of those wildlife moments that takes your breath away. You really never know what might be lurking in the Cornish rock pools.
My unexpected encounter with ‘Bob’ the lobster in February was one of those wildlife moments that takes your breath away. You really never know what might be lurking in the Cornish rock pools.

March

This mutant double-headed stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) caught my eye in March. Stalked jellyfish have special protection and I spend a lot of time recording these species. There are several different species in Cornwall and some of our Marine Conservation Zones and other areas of coast are importants sites for them.
This mutant double-headed stalked jellyfish (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis) caught my eye in March. Stalked jellyfish have special protection and I spend a lot of time recording these species. There are several different species in Cornwall and some of our Marine Conservation Zones and other areas of coast are importants sites for them.

April

I'm always getting distracted... while surveying for stalked jellyfish at a site which may be threatened by development, this absolutely tiny sea slug caught my eye. It's a Doto coronata - such a great name. There were several 'crowned Dotty' slugs among the hydroids at this site.
I’m always getting distracted… while surveying for stalked jellyfish at a site which may be threatened by development, this absolutely tiny sea slug caught my eye. It’s a Doto coronata – such a great name. There were several ‘crowned Dotty’ slugs among the hydroids.

June

2017 was my first year of leading events for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust's junior branch. I used to love the events as a kid and introducing a new generation and their families to jellyfish, starfish and other rockpool creatures is so much fun! I can't wait for my 2018 Wildlife Watch events and the Looe Marine Conservation Group rockpool rambles where I also volunteer.
2017 was my first year of leading events for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s junior branch. I used to love the events as a kid and introducing a new generation and their families to jellyfish, starfish and other rockpool creatures is so much fun! I can’t wait for my 2018 Wildlife Watch events and the Looe Marine Conservation Group rockpool rambles where I also volunteer.

July

Fish always seem to get away, so we were all very excited when I managed to coax this beautiful Corkwing wrasse into my bucket on a family rockpooling day. It's such a tropical looking fish.
Fish always seem to get away, so we were all very excited when I managed to coax this beautiful Corkwing wrasse into my bucket on a family rockpooling day. It’s such a tropical looking fish.

August

My absolute favourite finds of the year were the two species of sea slug that feed on fish eggs. Calma glaucoides (pictured here with its own eggs) feeds on clingfish eggs. I also found Calma gobioophaga, which feeds on goby eggs. Sea slugs really do have the best names.
My absolute favourite finds of the year were the two species of sea slug that feed on fish eggs. Calma glaucoides (pictured here with its own eggs) feeds on clingfish eggs. I also found Calma gobioophaga, which feeds on goby eggs. Sea slugs really do have the best names.

September

I was away in Brittany in September visiting our twin town, Quiberon. I couldn't resist having a rummage to see what was in the pools and was amazed to find this crab, Pachygrapsus marmoratus. It's native to the Mediterranean but is gradually moving north. Next stop Cornwall?
I was away in Brittany in September visiting our twin town, Quiberon. I couldn’t resist having a rummage to see what was in the pools and was amazed to find this crab, Pachygrapsus marmoratus. It’s native to the Mediterranean but is gradually moving north. Next stop Cornwall?

October

Portuguese Man O'War jellies began washing onto Cornish beaches in the summer, but didn't turn up in Looe until October. Amazing creatures - like pink and purple stinging pasties. Happy days!
Portuguese Men O’War began washing onto Cornish beaches in the summer, but didn’t turn up in Looe until October. Amazing creatures – like pink and purple stinging pasties. Happy days!

November

Most people think there's not much to see in the rock pools in November. They're wrong, of course! This sponge, possibly Myxilla rosacea, was one of the prettiest things I saw all year.
Most people think there’s not much to see in the rock pools in November. They’re wrong of course! This sponge, possibly Myxilla rosacea, was one of the prettiest things I saw all year.

December

The Cornish rock pools are full of tiny creatures that are often overlooked. I could have spent all day watching this 3-spot cowrie (Trivia monacha). The colours are amazing and there's something incredibly fetching about its big orange syphon. A perfect way to end the year.
The Cornish rock pools are full of tiny creatures that are often overlooked. I could have spent all day watching this 3-spot cowrie (Trivia monacha). The colours are amazing and there’s something incredibly fetching about its big orange syphon. A perfect way to end the year.

 

 

Winter Solstice Rock Pooling

It’s the shortest day of the year, but there’s no shortage of colour and life in the rock pools here in Looe.

I try out a pool I’ve not explored before and am blown away by the variety of animals going about their day, searching for food and shelter.

Easily my favourite find of the day is this European three-spot cowrie. Although they’re not uncommon here on the south-east coast of Cornwall, at low tide they’re usually retracted in their shells  or abseiling from the rocks on a mucous thread.

To find one fully extended out of its shell, its orange syphon probing the weeds and its leopard-print mantle curled around its shell, is fabulous. I’ve always loved finding these shells washed up on the beach, but the live animal is incredibly colourful. It looks far too tropical for our cold waters.

European three-spot cowrie looking glamorous
European three-spot cowrie looking glamorous
European three-spot cowrie
European three-spot cowrie

It’s not a great low tide but this large, shallow pool is ideal for all sorts of creatures.

Painted top shells are plentiful in this pool - there must be lots of food for them.
Painted top shells are plentiful in this pool – there must be lots of food for them.
Like the cowrie, this thick-lipped dog whelk has a long syphon.
Like the cowrie, this thick-lipped dog whelk has a long syphon.
A Velvet swimming crab lurking under an overhang
A Velvet swimming crab lurking under an overhang
These hydroids and bryozoans have their feeding tentacles out
These hydroids and bryozoans have their feeding tentacles out
A stalked jellyfish - Calvadosia cruxmelitensis
A stalked jellyfish – Calvadosia cruxmelitensis
Worm pipefish
Worm pipefish
A young snakelocks anemone
A young snakelocks anemone

Everywhere I look, there are more animals going about their business. Hermit crabs scurry past me and a fish takes shelter under my welly.

From now on, the days will get longer, and before long the sea slugs and fish will begin to move in to the shore to spawn. It seems some can’t wait for spring – even today I find a pair of Berthella plumula sea slugs under a stone!

If you’re in Cornwall this Christmas, take a look at the rock pools. You won’t be disappointed.

Nadelik Lowen!

Berthella plumula sea slug - I find two under a rock so it looks like they're planning to spawn soon.
Berthella plumula sea slug – I find two under a rock so it looks like they’re planning to spawn soon.
Who needs a Christmas tree when you can just decorate yourself in seaweed? 'Decorator' spider crab - Macropodia sp.
Who needs a Christmas tree when you can just decorate yourself in seaweed? ‘Decorator’ spider crab – Macropodia sp.