Category Archives: Wildlife

Who Needs Mythical Beasts? Rocket Jellies, Snakelocks Anemones and a Dragonet

When my son was younger he thought he saw a kraken. I returned from releasing a crab after an event for the local Cub pack to find him and a friend staring out over the sea, shading their eyes to better spot tentacle tips or unusual splashes among the waves. They were quite sure it was out there.

I watched with them for a long time, until the tide was lapping at our boots, because you never know what might be in the sea. A giant squid would be unusual, but our oceans are full of things that are so weird we are only just beginning to understand them. We sometimes see seals, dolphins and fish feeding frenzies, so why not a kraken?

Since then, my son has grown up a lot and is less sure that there are krakens in Looe. We no longer spend much time hiding in the woods looking for dragons or watching the waves for sea serpents. Junior still loves mythology, Cornish and otherwise, but knows that the real world has as much strangeness as fiction.

We are two minutes into this week’s rock pool expedition when he calls to me urgently to look at a thing he’s found.

Junior at work!

“I think it’s a hydroid medusa,” he says, because there’s not much he doesn’t recognize these days. “Quick, it’s going to get away.”

I grab a pot and wade over to where he is pointing. Staring into the tangle of colourful seaweeds, at first I see nothing.

A flicker of movement has me scooping up the water and when I look in my pot there is a tiny creature zipping from side to side, throwing itself against the edges of the pot like a trapped Trogglehumper. Of course, this creature is not a Roald Dahl creation, but an actual, fabulous marine animal. My books call it a ‘root arm jelly’, although Junior and I know it by a different name.

Whoosh! A rocket jelly. (Cladonema radiatum – aka the root arm jelly).

“Rocket jelly!” we shriek in delight.

With great care, we transfer the jelly into the lid of the pot to see it better.

The underside of the hydroid medusa (Cladonema radiatum – the root arm jelly)

The main part of its body, measuring less than a centimetre, is a perfectly transparent dome, through which we can see its rocket shaped internal parts. Pointing downwards, a mouth fringed with ball-shaped structures is feeling about, moving left and right.

The jelly’s transparent body with dark eyespots around the edge. Root arm jelly (Cladonema radiatum).

At the base of the medusa’s dome there are several dark eyespots. Spreading out at around them, like the fire below a rocket, are the most incredible red tentacles. They are branched, curled and almost feathery. As we watch they expand and contract, feel and reach.

Every time I focus on the medusa, it fires itself off in a new direction. Zooming from one side of the petri dish to another in an instant.

I have never seen a medusa with such expanded tentacles before, but I am sure this is the same species of ‘rocket jelly’ we have seen before (Cladonema radiatum).

Those little tentacles pack a strong sting for their size; it is an efficient little predator. I always find it hard to comprehend is that this free-swimming, speedy jelly is the reproductive stage of a colonial hydroid: an organism which lives attached to rocks or seaweed and doesn’t move from the spot.

Obelia geniculata - a hydroid known as 'sea fir'.
Hydroids like this sea fir, Obelia geniculata, live attached to seaweeds.

While Junior takes photos of the rocket jelly, I notice a young fish glide over the sand, stopping near my feet. It has mottled markings in blue, orange and brown, which look colourful and yet provide the fish with an ideal camouflage among the sand, pebbles and shell fragments. Its eyes are mounted high on its head, giving it a wide field of vision. This is the wonderfully-named dragonet.

Dragonet lying still on the sand. Despite the lovely colours, it is perfectly camouflaged.

These captivating fish have a distinctive way of swimming in short bursts across the seafloor and they have an exceptionally long first dorsal fin. Male dragonets raise this sail-like fin as part of a mating dance, which I would love to see some day! It is perhaps this display, somehow reminiscent of a frill-neck lizard opening its collar, that gives these fish their fabulous name.

Dragonet saying hello to my camera!

The dragonet comes unusually close to my camera before scudding away over the sand, becoming invisible every time it stops.

I take some photos of another striking animal with a mythical name, which seems to abound in this pool: the snakelocks anemone. Just like the Medusa of Roman mythology, this anemone has long, green moving ‘hair’. Instead of being made of snakes, though, the anemone’s locks are its stinging tentacles. They are pretty but deadly, especially if you are a small animal, or even quite a big one. We’ve often seen crab legs hanging out the mouths of these large anemones.

Snakelocks anemones in the rock pool.

Some snakelocks anemones are neon green with purple tips, while others are a muted beige colour. Out of the water, they are a sorry squidgy mess of jelly but in the pools their tentacles move and flow, sometimes with the current, sometimes reaching and grabbing for prey they have sensed.

Snakelocks anemone – some are green and some are beige.

The chug of a boat makes us look up. Unusually for this area, there is a dive boat close to the rocks. Two-by-two, people in Scuba gear pop up on the surface and clamber aboard. I wonder what they have seen and whether they have noticed the tiny rocket jellies, lurking dragonets or even the medusa-haired snakelocks anemones.

Dive boat close in to shore.

Perhaps the divers have seen the kraken as they’ve explored the sea just beyond our reach. Even if they have, we don’t feel we have missed out by being confined to the land. The rock pools are full of truly magical beasts. You just have to look.

Snakelocks tentacles waving in the current.

paddle–swimming And fish-whispering: Summer rock pooling in Cornwall

The sun is back and, for once, it has coincided with some big tides. Beach shoes at the ready, Junior and I scramble across the rocks, the clamour of the busy beaches far behind us, heading for our local pools. With Covid levels higher than ever in Cornwall at the moment, we’re hiding away from the crowds as much as we can.

The view to Downderry from East Looe.

We are so used to having to put on layers, waterproofs and wellies that it feels quite decadent to be able to wander about comfortably in shorts. The water is sparkling and the sun’s reflection on my camera screen is so strong that I can’t see the image properly, even when I adjust it to maximum brightness.

I might not be able to see much at first, but the pools are full of life. We cross the rocks to a wide pool fringed with oarweed and sugar kelp. We slip and slide over thongweed and step carefully into the cool water to avoid disturbing the wildlife.

Gorgeous blue-rayed limpets are everywhere on the kelp.

A small movement reveals the presence of a well-camouflaged dragonet. Knowing how hard it is for anyone to detect it, the fish takes its time, gliding a short distance across the sand then taking a break, seeming to disappear each time it stops.

The dragonet blends in perfectly with the sand, pebbles and shells.
Dragonet

Among the delicate red seaweeds, there are plenty of stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus). Their colour range is the same as that of the seaweeds, so although they are bright and attractive, they are not easy to spot.

Stalked jellyfish: Haliclystus octoradiatus

With every step I am getting deeper into the pool, but for once it doesn’t matter. Soon I am right in the middle, with water lapping up to my waist. A blue dragonfly zigzags past me, swooping low before turning back and disappearing towards the cliff.

I wade over to a tall rocky overhang while Junior enjoys a swim across the pool. There are several large fish flitting in and out of the kelp so I lower my camera a little at a time to see how they react. When this is successful, I decide to make the very best of the summer conditions. I pull my swim goggles on and lower my head into the water.

The fish (juvenile pollock) are stand-offish at first

There is a nursery shoal of juvenile pollock down here.  They hesitate at first. Winding their slender bodies through the kelp fronds, they watch me through wide yellow-rimmed eyes.

The young pollock get ever closer to take a look at me.

I’ve always thought of pollock as a silver coloured fish, but these youngsters are golden-green with shimmering blue stripes running from their head to their tail. Their jutting bottom lip makes them look open-mouthed, mid-conversation.

Hello fish friends! The young pollock are keen to take a close look at my camera.

They are certainly a friendly bunch, swimming ever closer to the camera until their tails are brushing the lens. I have to keep lifting my head to breathe, but they don’t seem to mind.

Video: Hello fish!

After a while, I leave the pollock to talk among themselves and move on to an adjoining pool. A shoal of sand eels is patrolling here. These fish are of a more nervous disposition, turning, balling and flashing with silver at the slightest disturbance. If they spotted a predator, they would flee head-downwards, burying themselves in the sand in an instant.

Sand eel swim-past.

I move slowly and give the sand eels space, turning my attention to the sea squirts and snails on the rocks.

An especially pretty yellow star-ascidian surrounded by pink algae and red seaweeds.

When the tide turns, Junior and I retreat to the first pool, swimming and bobbing in the water, watching butterflies tumble past and swallows circling high above. There are boats, people and a whole world out there, but, like the pollock, we are happy in our rock pool refuge.

Even the seaweeds are shining in the sun. Forkweed, Looe, Cornwall.

Whatever the weather, always stay safe in the rock pools. Follow my rockpooling tips to look after yourself and the wildlife on the shore.

 

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Neap Tide Adventures

Days like this don’t seem ideal for rock pooling; the tide is nowhere near low enough to expose my favourite pools and the weather is iffy. Despite this, I am convinced that there is plenty to see on the mid-shore. Cameras and rock pooling super-crew (Other Half and Junior) at the ready, we set out to uncover marine treasures.

One advantage of neap tides, when the sea doesn’t go out very far, is that it won’t rush back in either. We can take our time. Junior soon locates lots of gem anemones with their tentacles wide open.

Gem anemone

Under a stone further down the shore, I spot a beautifully camouflaged anemone. It’s too small to see properly, so I have to wait until I get home to confirm that it’s a Sagartia troglodytes anemone.

Sagartia trogladytes anemone

The B shape at the base of the tentacles is a useful identifying feature, although I’ve always thought they look more like Scooby Doo ghost eyes than letters.

Other Half calls me over to look at a blob. He’s becoming quite an expert blob finder.

We look together at the tiny brown jelly-spot on the seaweed. At first, we think it is an anemone because it seems to have a circle of retracted tentacles. As soon as I dunk it in the water though, I can see the pale lumps of primary tentacles around the edge. It must be a stalked jellyfish.

Is it just me or does this stalked jelly not look pleased to see me? Haliclystus octoradiatus.

Gradually, the stalked jelly unfurls each arm until it looks much less blob-like.

Haliclystus octoradiatus -starting to look more like a stalked jellyfish than a blob.

The rain seems to be holding off now, and I make myself comfortable by a calm pool to watch the little world go by. My camera has barely entered the water before a bold prawn trots out of the seaweed, its legs working at top speed in its eagerness to check out what I’m up to.

Common prawn coming to take a look at my camera.
Common prawn

A head pops up between the fronds of saw wrack at the back of the pool. The young Montagu’s blenny swivels an eye back and forth beneath its jaunty headgear. I feel a larger blenny move through the seaweed near my hand and lift my camera out of the water before I get a nip from the territorial shanny.

Peek-a-boo! Montagu’s blenny taking a look above the serrated wrack.
Montagu’s blenny.

A dinky starfish in the coral weed catches my eye. I see several species of starfish on this beach, but this is a mid-shore specialist: Asterina phylactica. The colours of the tiny pincers on its back (the pedicellariae) form an orange star shape. Under the camera, I can see its tube feet reaching out and exploring its surroundings as it glides along.

Asterina phylactica – cushion starfish

Other Half brings passes me a tiny shell he has found. He thinks it might be a wentletrap, a shell we sometimes find. I have never seen one so small and assume it is probably a different species. I take a look with the camera and realise he was right. The bold sculpture of ribs over the rounded whorls of the long spire are striking, even in this tiny juvenile. Best of all, the shell is occupied.

Juvenile wentletrap

I watch the snail emerge and set off across the pool.

This makes me think of a unicorn and a rainbow – juvenile wentletrap.

Sea squirts are something of an enigma to me. They are hugely varied in their colours, shapes and sizes. Aplidium turbinatum, in particular, seems to me to look different every time I find it. When I first see this one, I am convinced that the white, spiky-looking set of openings under the coral weed is a bryozoan.

I know this looks familiar, but takes me a long time to work out that it is Aplidium turbinatum, a sea squirt.

Yet, after a while watching it, I realise it is opening and closing like a squirt, puffing water in and out. It bears little resemblance to the orange gelatinous Aplidium turbinatum I usually see further down this beach, but the jutting triangular crowns around the edge of each opening are the same.

Aplidium turbinatum sea squirts

Fortunately, I can turn to the incredible Aphotomarine website for confirmation and, sure enough, it has some photos of very similar specimens (thanks David!).

While the tide seeps back into the pools, we chat with a fellow rock pooler whose photos I have often seen online, and who I eventually realise I have met before in real life through another conservation group.

Chthamalus sp barnacles starting to open as the tide comes in.

By the time we leave, the sun is low in the sky. I am more than satisfied with all the wonderful creatures I have found on the neap tide, and it is high time I had some birthday cake.

Strawberry anemone

Whatever the tide, always stay safe in the rock pools. Follow my rockpooling tips to look after yourself and the wildlife on the shore.

This website is a labour of much love and the content is available for free to everyone. My wonderful readers often ask if there is a way to support my work. You can now ‘buy me a coffee’ through my Ko-fi.uk page. (Just click donate and you can set the amount to pay by PayPal). Thank you!

A Swim Over The Rock Pools

“Quick, I need the camera. There’s a jelly.”

Junior’s enthusiasm takes me aback. He has a healthy aversion to getting close to jellyfish. We have already changed course many times on today’s high tide swim to avoid the trailing tentacles of compass jellyfish.

Compass jellyfish. Also known as sea nettles as they pack quite a little sting, these jellyfish have beautiful markings.
The distinctive markings of the compass jellyfish.

These common summer visitors have striking brown V-shaped markings around their edges, like the points of a compass. Although their sting is rarely serious, somewhere in the region of a stinging nettle in strength, it isn’t much fun if you swim face-first into one as I have done on a few occasions.

Crystal jelly. This is a hydroid medusa rather than a ‘true’ jellyfish. It has short tentacles around the edges rather than long trailing tentacles.

Some other species we have seen this week, like the moon jellyfish and crystal jellyfish, are harmless but today only the compass jellies are out.

One of many moon jellyfish washed up by the strong swell. This species is harmless.
Moon jellyfish only have a very weak sting so are usually harmless to people. Never touch a jelly if you’re not sure of the species and wash your hands well before touching your eyes.

Incredible numbers of sand eels fill the water in every direction, flashing silver as they turn, before melding into the green sea. Junior notices a small spotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula) – also known as dogfish – swimming through a rocky gully beneath us. Alongside submerged rocks, several species of wrasse flit among the kelp.

This sand eel is speeding along – photo by Junior

I unclip the camera from the safety float and pass it to Junior who is pointing excitedly at something I can’t see.

I dip under the water and look at where he’s pointing. Still nothing. I bob up for air and try again.

This time I see something much smaller than I was expecting, or half see it – it’s mostly transparent with just the faintest pink hue.

Comb jelly – photo by Junior

“Is it a comb jelly?” Junior asks. This is the first one he’s seen and much excitement ensues as he tries to photograph a barely visible tiny swimming thing while holding his breath and floating in water 5 metres deep.

Comb jelly by Junior. The transparency of the animal and its movement in the water make it hard to focus, but you can see the shining light of the combs.

Mostly we just enjoy the incredible coloured light show this Beroe cucumis comb jelly is putting on for us. The iridescent disco-light effect is created by lines of beating hair-like cilia (the combs) that run the length of the comb jelly’s body.

This species looks like a simple hollow tube or sack, but it is an efficient predator, known to feed on other comb jellies.

The different colours of the lights around the edges of the comb jelly are incredible to watch. Photo by Junior.

How Junior spotted this little speck in the ocean, I have no idea. We look around for more but find none.

Comb jelly by Junior.

Eventually we have to head back to shore, drifting over all of our familiar rock pools on the way. Hermit crabs and netted dog whelks are out in force and as we near the beach, we see shannies basking on sunny rocks in the shallows.

There are lots of these ‘south clawed’ hermit crabs (Diogenes pugilator) on the sand. Their left claw is much longer and larger than their right.

This might not be rock pooling in the usual sense, swimming on a high tide gives us a whole new perspective on life here. You don’t need to be a billionaire to become weightless and take a soundless flight over the rock pools. There is no better way to see how this environment looks for most of each day, when the wider ocean and the shore cross over and become one.

Swimming in the sea in Cornwall is a wonderful experience but is very different from swimming in a pool and can be dangerous. Always consider the conditions and stay well within your limits. Check the weather, tides and currents, enter the water slowly and adjust to the temperature. Choose a lifeguarded beach if possible and a place where you know how to safely enter and exit the water. Swim alongside the shore. A tow float makes you more visible and beach shoes can protect you from weever fish and sharp rocks. Don’t swim alone and let someone know where you are. In any emergency at sea or on the shore, call the Coastguard on 999.

This website is a labour of much love and the content is available for free to everyone. My wonderful readers often ask if there is a way to support my work. You can now ‘buy me a coffee’ through my Ko-fi.uk page. (Just click donate and you can set the amount to pay by PayPal). Thank you!

A Night Out In The Rock Pools

It’s not often that you have the beach to yourself in Cornwall in July, but we want to show our friends the best Kernow has to offer. With this in mind, we meet Irys and her mum late in the evening to walk to our local shore and crunch across the sand to the rocks in the grey twilight.

Arriving at the empty beach before it is completely dark. (Photo by Other Half).

It doesn’t seem dark yet, but the birds are quiet, there are no other people about and it’s becoming hard to see where we’re putting our feet.

At night, it is especially important to put safety first so that you don’t find yourself in difficulty and have to get the Coastguard out of bed. We stick to a planned route on a beach we know well so that we will not be clambering over unfamiliar or slippery rocks. As always, an outgoing tide is safest and we arrive a full two hours before low tide so that we will leave before it turns. Sturdy boots and good torches are essential equipment, as are working phones and warm clothes. Our best-loved pieces of nighttime kit are our ultra-violet torches. Irys is trying hers out for the first time.

Testing the UV torch on some anemones. (Photo by Other Half)

The lack of predatory birds and drying sun makes life easier for rock pool inhabitants, so most of them are nocturnal. Creatures that we have to search for in daylight, such as prawns, crabs and fish, are all out and about looking for food.

Junior takes Irys straight to his favourite spot for seeing gem anemones. Under the UV torch they glow brightly, as does this snakelocks anemone. This fluorescence is caused by proteins that may help the anemone to survive in bright sunlight in shallow pools.

Snakelocks anemones

By scanning the torch across the pools it is possible to spot the anemones from some distance away.

Snakelocks anemones fluorescing. Seaweeds on the rock are also fluorescing red and pink.

We stand on the rocks and look into a large pool. Prawns, glowing blue under the UV torch, swim to and fro, intent on feeding. A common shrimp skitters across the sand. The green seaweeds glow bright red and the pink encrusting seaweed takes on a deeper pink-purple hue.

Exploring the pools as it gets dark.

We alternate between the normal torches and UV, finding sea scorpion fish, a rockling and even a young tompot blenny with its distinctive headgear. Irys finds a common blenny in a hole in the rock, lying still and breathing through its skin while it waits for the tide to return.

Sea scorpion fish – Taurus bubalis – hiding among the seaweed.

Hermit crabs run around the pools and some of the top shells glow pink under UV where their shell has worn away to reveal the mother of pearl layer below.

Taking a close look at an isopod at night. (Photo by Other Half).

Flying insects swarm around our head torches while bats dance in and out of the light. We tread carefully and stop still for long periods, looking into the water, enjoying the window into the animals’ lives while the waves splash against the rocks beyond us.

It’s fascinating to explore fluorescence. Anemones glow, stalked jellyfish not so much. Crabs and isopods stand out against the seaweeds in shades of blue and grey. A shell containing a hermit crab shines a bright orangey-red, probably due to micro-algae growing on it. In every pool, once you get your eye in, there are countless blue specks zipping about in dizzying circles, which must be copepods or similar small crustaceans that I would normally only see under the microscope.

At night, crabs often emerge from the water and cross the rocks. This green shore crab was carrying a limpet off to eat.

Green shore crab holding a limpet in its right pincer.

Normally it is the rising tide that brings an end to our rockpooling, but tonight it is tiredness that creeps up on us. Still buzzing from all that we have seen, we head home to bed. Behind us the rock pools seem quiet and deserted, but we know better; for the wildlife on the beach, the night is just beginning.

Cushion Starfish and Babies Galore – Summer Rockpooling in Looe.

The sun is shining, the tide is going out and I’m wearing my ‘new’ blue sunglasses that I found in a rock pool last week. Junior and I are searching for signs of new life on the sheltered shore at Looe. Most of all, we are looking for cushion starfish eggs.

We aren’t the only ones out on the beach. Grey herons, egrets, oystercatchers, great black-backed gulls and crows, many with hungry nestlings to feed, are taking a keen interest in the pools and rocks. We give the birds plenty of space and settle ourselves by a mid-shore pool.

There is always lots going on here. Colonies of light-bulb sea squirts are sprouting up around the rocks, hermit crabs scuttle across the gravel and prawns swim over to see what we are doing – or perhaps to see if we are edible.

Light bulb sea squirts.

Under a rock adorned with a brilliant blue patch of Terpios fugax sponge, a rock goby is lying still, watching me through small eyes.

Terpios fugax – a blue sponge
Goby

Another goby close by, its head poking out from under a stone. There is no sign of any rock goby eggs, but as I check the underside of the rock, something glides along its surface.

Spot the fish

It’s hard to see what the tiny creature is. It looks as though it is changing colour as it moves, but this is because I am seeing straight through its body to the colours of the algae and sponges. After a few attempts, I manage to zoom in on the baby fish, which rests only for a few seconds at a time before zipping forward in a new direction.

The baby fish is very transparent.

This is probably a baby goby. As the summer goes on, many quiet mid-shore pools will hold large populations of tiny gobies and blennies.

The juvenile fish’s organs and spine can be seen clearly in its transparent body.

The cushion star Asterina gibbosa is a common rock pool starfish here in Cornwall, easily recognized by its puffy body and short, stiff, arms. These little starfish all start life as males and then become hermaphrodites (with both male and female organs) as they grow.

Unlike many other species of starfish, these cushion stars do not spawn into the plankton but lay a clutch of bright orange eggs. I sometimes find newly-laid eggs several times.

Cushion stars (Asterina gibbosa) laying eggs

When the eggs are developing, the curled-up legs of a baby starfish can just be seen.

Developing cushion star eggs.

This area of the beach seems to be a popular egg-laying site for the cushion starfish, so today I am hoping to fully developed or just-hatched eggs.

I search the pool, gently lifting a few stones before replacing them exactly as they were. This pool is crowded with St Piran’s and common hermit crabs of all sizes. The high population means that there is competition for shells. One St Piran’s hermit crab is occupying a very battered dog-whelk shell with half of the back missing – it’s better than nothing.

St Piran’s hermit crab in a broken dog whelk shell.

A Xantho hydrophilus crab wanders past me. From the way her tail sticks out a little behind her shell, I can see that she must be carrying eggs. I take a quick look, keeping her in the water and cradling her to keep her eggs safe. The tiny black spots on the eggs show that they are near hatching. Under my camera I can see all the little eyes staring out.

Xantho hydrophilus crab – female with eggs. The feathery accessories around her tail keep the eggs in place.

When her eggs are ready to hatch, the crab will release them into the sea, flapping her tail to send them on their way. The baby crabs will swim in the plankton for a while before gradually changing into their final form and settling.

Xantho hydrophilus crab eggs looking ready to hatch

Finally, I come across a small patch of orange cushion star eggs under a rock. I crouch down and put my camera in the water. These eggs look a little different to others I have found. It takes me a moment to realise why: they have hatched!

Instead of eggs, I am looking at hundreds of minuscule orange cushion stars, all very gradually extending their little tube feet and beginning to move and explore.

The cushion starfish eggs have hatched. Asterina gibbosa juveniles.

Most of the cushion starfish babies are still piled up together in a huddle, but some are a few centimetres away from the crowd, already taking their first journey alone in the rock pool.

I am entranced. So much so, that I don’t notice that I am sitting in the water getting a wet bottom while I take photos. I could stay watching this forever, but I want to share it with Junior.

A bundle of newly-hatched baby cushion stars.

Junior goes through the same process as me, seeing the eggs and taking a few shots on his camera before realising what he is looking at. He’s seen most things in the rock pools by now so it takes something special to impress him. This is something very special.

Newly-hatched cushion starfish.

Cushion stars are lovely; baby cushion stars are pure magic. Once again, the rock pools have exceeded all our expectations. We will never know how things turn out for these particular baby starfish, but we may well meet some of them again as adults on our future visits to our local shore.

If you are visiting the beach this summer, be sure to rock pool responsibly and safely. Check the tides and leave everything as you found it. Read my top tips for successful rock pooling.

This website is a labour of much love and the content is available for free to everyone. My wonderful readers often ask if there is a way to support my work. You can now ‘buy me a coffee’ through my Ko-fi.uk page. (Just click donate and you can set the amount to pay by PayPal). Thank you!

Dotty Doto Sea Slugs (and an ode to a spade)

My son has had the same spade since he was three. When I first agreed to let him loose with something bigger than himself with sharp metal on the end it was something of a risk. Since then, it has been his favourite possession, enjoying frenzied use on beaches all around the Cornwall and in all weathers, creating dams, pits, castles and ‘sand volcanoes’. The blade has been wobbling for some time now, but today Junior has plans for a tide fort at Millendreath, so we hope for the best.

Blue spade going strong in 2019 (age 8).

We cross the rocks towards the sandy beach, stopping on the way to explore the pools. Many of the seaweeds growing at the base of the rocks are covered in a dense thicket of Dynamena pumila hydroids.

Dynamena pumila hydroids (the yellow strands) on seaweed.

They look like pale plant stalks, each just a few centimetres long, but up close I can that each ‘stalk’ is made of a stack of downward-pointing triangle shapes.

Dynamena pumila up close – looking like a stack of tiny golden cups.

When they are submerged as the tide comes in, a circlet of delicate stinging tentacles will emerge from each side of every triangle to catch passing food. Hydroids are fascinating animals, and are also a favourite food of some other species, including sea slugs.

Among the hydroids are a few spots of jelly, just a few milimetres long. They are very hard to see, especially while the seaweed is stranded out of the water, but these are sea slugs. In places I find the hydroid stalks are entangled with a fine strand of white – the sea slug spawn.

A tiny Doto sea slug out of water – my fingertip is in the background for scale.

I try various ways to get the hydroids into water so that I can see the slugs better, but nothing works. I don’t want to harm any of the animals by removing them so I give up.

Trying and failing to take good photos of a Doto sea slug in situ.

Further down the beach towards the sea, the gulls are making a huge racket, screaming and splashing. Where the rocky gully we are in opens into a wide sandy pool, we come upon a scene of complete chaos. Scores of herring gulls and some greater black-backed gulls are jostling for space: some swimming on the pool, others flying down and yet more perched on the rocks all around. Many are dunking their heads in the water, reaching for something. There must be food here.

We try not to bother them but most of the birds fly up as we clamber over the last rocks to the beach. I take a quick look in the pool and find it is strewn with dead sand eels. There are so many that they have drifted into heaps against the rocks and some have tangled themselves into balls in their efforts to escape.

It’s sad to see so many dead sand eels but, for the gulls and other seabirds, it is a bonanza.

These mass strandings of sand eels happen sometimes. Perhaps it is the warm weather and low tide combining to starve them of oxygen as they hide in the sand, or perhaps a large shoal became trapped here and were an easy target for the seabirds. There is nothing to do but leave the gulls to their feasting.

There were hundreds of dead sand eels in this pool.

While Junior is shoveling sand with his dad, I return to the hydroids. After much searching, I find a slug that is only loosely attached to its prey and manage to wash it into a small tub. As soon as it is in the water, it transforms from a featureless blob into a magnificent structure of wobbling towers and waving rhinophores.

Doto sp. These slugs look magnificent in the water.

This is a Doto sea slug, but the species is not so clear. Most Doto slugs feed on very specific hydroids. My old books suggest Doto coronata can feed on Dynamena, but now it seems that they eat other things and that this is likely a different species, perhaps Doto onusta. Whatever it’s called, it is a true leader in the field of jelly architecture.

I have no idea what purpose the towering protrusions topped with dark spots fulfill – maybe camouflage, maybe just housing to its digestive organs, but they are incredible.

Doto sp. sea slug.

I find a sheltered pool where I can photograph and watch the little Doto for a while, before gently returning it to the exact same place I found it.

The dotty Doto slug exploring the pool.

Junior has just about finished his sand fort when his spade finally parts from the handle with a wet crunch. We lovingly assemble all the bits and make sure to pack them into our bags, hoping that we can somehow repair it later. We share stories of all the happy times Junior has enjoyed with his spade over the course of the last nine years. It feels like saying goodbye to a family member, but the tide is coming in and Junior perks up to defend his fort from the waves, standing atop the sand until the sea starts to flood his wellies.

Back at home, Other Half disappears into the garage and rummages for a while before emerging with the spade firmly fixed to a new shaft. Blue spade lives to build again!

Other finds…

Common periwinkle
Cowrie
Stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus)
Spider crab (Macropodia sp.)

Team Rock Pooling Near Falmouth

It is going to be hard to top our last, sea slug filled rock pooling session at this beach, but we can’t resist popping back for another look. This time, we have reinforcements!

I have the best friends in the world. Not only do they obsess about rock pool creatures but Sarah has picked up pasties for Other Half and me, and Charlotte arrives bearing a gift of homemade cake. As this is the fourth day in a row of rockpooling in the biting cold, comfort food is going to be essential. Sarah’s partner is gallantly entertaining the kids for the day and we’re joined by our film maker friend, Greg who is looking for sea slugs – it’s the sort of mission we can all buy into.

Returning to a beach we visited only a few days before is a bit like a memory game: if we can just find the right pools and rocks, we should be able to rediscover some favourite creatures. Sure enough, Greg is rewarded for his enthusiasm by coming across what is probably the same fabulously colourful Facelina auriculata slug we found before.

Meanwhile, Sarah, Charlotte, Other Half and I are on a mission to record the incredible diversity of species at this site.

Anthopleura ballii anemone

There is so much here, it is hard to know where to start. I make the most of my waders and explore the pools and overhangs which would otherwise overtop my wellies. Some species are unusually common here, like the Anthopleura ballii anemone. Its brown and white speckled pattern gives it something of the look of a 1970s pub carpet. The distinctive lines of crimson spots on its column make it instantly recognisable.

Among the sand are occasional pieces of maerl, a red encrusting seaweed with a calcareous skeleton which forms bright pink living sculptures. Offshore in this area, these slow-growing structures can cover the seabed, building up in layers to provide shelter for many small creatures and young fish. Nationally and internationally such maerl beds are scarce.

The new spring growth of the rainbow wrack is everywhere, sprouting into great bushes of turquoise and iridescent greens and blues that seem to change constantly. Around their thick, branching forms, dense colonies of encrusting animals form and I spend a long time staring into their tiny worlds of densely packed sponges, starry sea squirts, feathery hydroids and busy crustaceans.

Rainbow wrack

Sarah finds our little Palio nothus slug, still powering through the same giant goby eggs. I spot another, larger one nearby and Charlotte discovers yet another near the end of our session. None of us had seen this species before this week and now they are everywhere.

Palio nothus among the goby eggs
Another Palio nothus

We seemed destined to find slugs this week. All of us keep spotting more and I can hardly keep up. The largest is this great grey sea slug, Aeolidia filomenae, which is hunting for anemones under a rock. Judging by its size and pink colour, it has been feeding well.

Great grey sea slug, Aeolidia filomena, hanging upside down under a rock.

Among the thick, velvety branches of the codium seaweed there are a few solar powered sea slugs, Elysia viridis. These remarkable little slugs feed on the seaweed and retain the plant’s chloroplasts in their bodies. The chloroplasts carry on photosynthesising and provide the slug with energy.

Codium seaweed
Elysia viridis – the solar powered sea slug.

While I am exploring the seaweed, an isopod swims over and rests for a moment on my finger. These little crustaceans are relatives of woodlice and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. This one is a Dynamene bidentata, so-called because of the two little prongs on its back (bidentata means two-toothed).

Dynamene bidentata, an isopod.

The slugfest continues apace, with one of my favourites. Limacia clavigera, the orange-clubbed sea slug, is a species I often find, but it’s always a delight. Like many sea slugs, it looks like it has been let loose in a dressing up box. Its slender white body is splendidly adorned with long yellow and orange appendages, sticking out in every direction. Greg finds one so large that it looks like two slugs.

Limacia clavigera, the orange-clubbed sea slug.

The tide is turning. I am so cold I should probably have left a while ago. I have to shake my hands and windmill my arms around my head to try to restore feeling in my frozen fingers, but I can’t bear to miss a thing.

We see plenty of sea hares and their spawn, and count around a dozen Geitodoris planata slugs, but some tiny finds are the most exciting of all.

A tangle of sea hare spawn.

Sarah calls me over. She has located some possible slugs on a rock, but they are so small she is doubting herself. Bracing myself, I put my hands in the water once again.

It’s hard to operate the buttons on my camera and hold it steady enough, but I’m sure she is right that there is something here. There is a faint pale mark on the rock that could be spawn and something alongside it that is just a speck.

The image takes shape on my screen. There are two slugs and it looks as though they are busy spawning. Their chunky cerata are prettily speckled with white and they have red lines on their heads. There are lots of similar species, but I’m fairly sure these are Trinchesia foliata (a name I remember as the ‘three-cheese foliage slug’).

The two Trinchesia foliata slugs with their white spawn in the background.
You need to look carefully to spot slugs! The Trinchesia foliata slugs with a finger in shot for scale.

I have only found this species once before in Looe, so it’s fantastic to see two spawning like this.

Trinchesia foliata

Charlotte calls me to look at a slug she has found and doesn’t recognise. It’s another tiny one with a colour pattern I have never seen before. The tide is coming in fast now and the wind is picking up, making it hard to find a sheltered patch of water to observe. I kneel in a pool and place the slug on a small stone to view it better.

Favorinus branchialis juvenile slug.

Each long cerata on the slug’s back is decorated with a red spot at the tip, like a cherry on the cake. It has a wide moustache-like pair of oral tentacles on its head as well as tall browny-orange rhinophores with white tips. It is these that make me think it might be a Favorinus branchialis, but it seems to lack the distinctive onion-dome bulges that I associate with that species.

It is only when I get the photos home and onto a large screen that I can see all the features, including the the slight curve in the rhinophores and decide that it is F. branchialis after all. The bulges are less pronounced in juveniles than in the adult slugs. This species is often found feeding on the eggs of other sea slugs.

Favorinus branchialis

While Charlotte returns the slug to where she found it, I take a look at a stalked jellyfish that Other Half has spotted on some sea grass. The jellyfish and the frond of seagrass are swaying in the current, making it hard to take a photo.

Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish on seagrass.

Back in Sarah’s pool I discover even more slugs. A ‘feathered Bertha’, Berthella plumula, is under one rock, while another Limacia clavigera is feeding near the pair of Trinchesia foliata. Charlotte finds another little Palio nothus slug.

The tide is gushing into the lagoon, flowing around the spot where Other Half is still trying to photograph the stalked jellyfish. After a couple more minute he gives up and wades out, sitting on the rocks to take off his boots and wring out his socks.

Greg spots a yellow blob, which I find almost impossible to focus on, probably because my fingers now have no feeling at all. The sandy-looking spots on this sea slug show that it is a Doris ocelligera. This is a species that was very rarely recorded around our coasts in the past, but which I have found frequently in recent years, possibly due to warming waters.

Doris ocelligera slug near Falmouth.

With the sea lapping at our heels, we finally admit defeat. I’m not a great fan of tea, but I have never been more grateful to the inventor of the thermos flask than now, sitting at the top of the beach, cradling my hot drink and feeling my fingers gradually become reacquainted with the rest of my body.

As always, I have seen new things today and learned more about the creatures on the shore from glimpsing their world. It is incredible to me that anything can survive here and yet there is enormous richness in this ecosystem. Charlotte and I will make sure that everything we have found is recorded with our local records centre.

Recording the species we have seen helps to monitor changes in the wildlife over time and to inform conservation projects and policies. Online systems such as ORKS and i-Naturalist make it easy for anyone to submit their finds.

It will be another month before the tides are this good again – time that I will use wisely warming up and eating cake!

Pheasant shell on codium seaweed.
Yellow star ascidian with patches of the non-native red-ripple bryozoan Watersipora subatra.
Velvet swimming crab hiding in the sand.

Slugtastic Rock Pooling near Falmouth

Finding a sea slug is always a moment of joy. I can’t imagine ever losing the excitement of spotting a minuscule blob that might just be something and realising that it is moving, unfurling, becoming spectacular. There are so many species, that I have plenty yet to discover as well as many old acquaintances to renew.

Limacia clavigera – the orange-clubbed sea slug. Near Falmouth. Out of the water, these slugs are shapeless blobs.

The oystercatchers are unusually quiet, huddling between the rocks in the distance and I’m glad of my waders to keep the worst of the north wind off. Conditions could be better, but with two households of keen rock poolers on the beach today, all trussed up in enough layers for an Arctic expedition, we feel sure that good things will happen. Junior and his friends let us adults get a head start while they chat after a long time apart, but they’ll soon join us when we uncover something interesting. Sure enough, just minutes into our explorations, the shout of ‘slug’ goes up.

Other Half, who was just saying that he always looks for sea slugs but never finds them has found one. He beams and points it out; I have to follow his finger to see it among the pink coralline seaweed.

Not only has he found a slug, it is an absolute beauty.

Other Half’s wonderfully orange Aeolidiella alderi – the white-ruffed slug.

At first I think this is a species that I haven’t seen before. The slug’s body and the rhinophores protruding from its head are an intense orange. The dense hair-like cerata on its back are mostly patterned in speckled grey and orange, except for a bright white row of cerata immediately behind the slug’s head, forming a pretty white ruff around its ‘neck’.

Among the pink algae, the slug is surprisingly well camouflaged.

It is this white collar which makes me realise that the slug is likely to be a species which is usually far less colourful, Aeolidiella alderi. This slender slug feeds on anemones, and is particularly fond of daisy anemones. Like some other Aeolid slugs, A. alderi takes in the colour from its food, so it looks like this little slug has been feasting on something orange.

Aeolidiella alderi.

I have barely started to look at the A. alderi slug under my camera when our friends shout, ‘Slug!’ I hurry across the rocks as fast as my waders will take me, looking and feeling rather like a lumbering green Teletubby and not caring one bit. The day has started as we hope it will go on.

We position ourselves around the minute blob and angle the rock it is on so it is a little deeper in the pool. Like most slugs, it looks like a tiny streak of jelly when it is out of the water, but once submerged its back fluffs into long star-studded cerata and enormously long moustache-like tentacles curve out from its head.

The wide oral tentacles on this Facelina annulicornis remind me of a circus ringleader’s moustache.

The ringed rhinophores on this slug’s head look like a pair of mini helter-skelters, waving at my camera as the slug advances towards me. A pair of black eyes stares up into my lens.

Facelina annulicornis.

The slug is so small that I’m not entirely sure of the species until I see the photos on a bigger screen back at home. The little star-spots all over its body are a giveaway. This is Facelina annulicornis, which I call the ‘starry unicorn slug’ to help me remember the scientific name.

Facelina annulicornis – or the ‘starry unicorn slug’ as I call it.

Back on the beach, I take our friends to see Other Half’s little orange slug and we explore the pool further. To my amazement, the very next stone I check has an intense spot of purple on it, like a gleaming amethyst. This can only be another slug.

I place the rock gently under the water and the slug fluffs up in an instant, forming a ball of intensely coloured cerata. The colour is so bright that I expect it to be an Edmundsella pedata, but as it stretches out its body I can see that the cerata are vivid blue, red and white, a Facelina auriculata.

The exceptionally brightly coloured Facelina auriculata.

 This is the most incredibly coloured one I have ever seen and my camera cannot fully capture how bright it is. The slug is so captivating that I only realise there is a second, less colourful, slug on the rock when it photobombs its companion. This is likely to be a mating pair, although there is no sign of spawn as yet.

The second slug is larger, but I almost miss it because the first Facelina auriculata is so strikingly coloured.

By now, the children have joined us, keen to see what all the excitement is about. Junior recognizes the ‘patriotic sea slug’, as we call the Facelina auriculata (in honour of the many countries that have red, white and blue flags), but the colours make him gasp with amazement. He sets to with his camera, trying to capture every angle.

One of Junior’s lovely photos of Facelina auriculata.

As the tide rolls further out, the pools seem to stretch forever in every direction and I’m torn as to where to go next. Every pool is full of possibility and I cannot visit them all before the sea returns.

I decide to make the most of my waders, slooshing out to the edge of the sea, through shallows packed with rainbow wrack adorned with the mermaid’s purse egg cases of greater spotted catsharks (Scyliorhinus stellaris).

A catshark eggcase (Scyliorhinus stellaris)

There are flatworms galore, their clusters of eyespots seeing the world in ways I struggle to imagine. A variegated scallop spots me through the many eyes dotted around its part-open shells and decides to move to safety, slamming its shell shut to propel itself.

Urchins extend their tube feet in their strange dance, curving and twisting between their purple-tipped spines.

One of our friends finds a fully-grown spider crab, sheltering beside a rock, wonderfully camouflaged against the shell sand. We leave it undisturbed and well covered in seaweed to keep it safe from the marauding gulls.

The spider crab, hiding away.

Our other friend signals to me from beyond the rock line. She is performing our special arm-waving dance, as invented by Junior. She must have found a Discodoris slug (Geitodoris planata).

The pair of Geitodoris planata slugs. They can make their bodies almost flat on the rock, with only their rhinophores and their feathery gills standing up.

These unpretentious brown pancake-flat slugs don’t have any of the bling of the other nudibranch slugs we’ve seen today but looks aren’t everything. The Geitodoris planata’s secret weapon are acid glands, forming white stars on the slug’s sides. This is a formidable and fascinating slug.

Geitodoris planata. The white patches on its back are acid glands.

Incredibly, our slug finds keep on coming. Close by is a Berthella plumula, which we call the ‘feathered Bertha’. This striking yellow slug can also produce acid if it is disturbed and, weirdly for a slug, has an internal shell, visible as a dark patch in the middle of its back.

Berthella plumula with its tentacles extended, exploring the rock.

Another yellow spot on the rock turns into this fabulous Limacia clavigera slug as soon as I put it in water. I take a few photos before carefully returning it to its hideaway.

Limacia clavigera, the orange clubbed sea slug.

The tide is coming in and the raw wind has taken its toll on my hands. I stuff my frozen fingers down the neck of my jumper, but they are still painful and numb from plunging repeatedly into the water. A sensible person would give up before frostbite sets in, but I’m not that sort of person… there might still be slugs to find. The kids are not so daft: they have wandered back to the top of the beach to start on the picnic lunch.

The rocks are full of animal life and seaweed. A yellow-ringed sea squirt (Ciona intestinalis) on a rock encrusted with sponges.

As the tide moves up behind us we explore the mid shore, hoping to find goby eggs or clingfish eggs and the slugs that eat them. It’s still a bit early in the season, but we find a few patches of yellow clingfish eggs.

Clingfish eggs.

Eventually, hauling up a rock that feels as big as myself, I spot some capsule-shaped eggs on the underside. These are larger than the rock goby eggs I’ve seen this week, so they could belong to a giant goby. Some of the eggs are empty and others are well-developed, the baby fish looking out at us with silvery eyes. Taking great care not to disturb them, we scan the rock.

Goby eggs.

Seeing no sign of slugs, I use my camera to look more closely. At first I find nothing, but spotting something tiny and dark I zoom in. My hands are struggling to press buttons, but I convince myself this is something. It seems to move a little.

All of a sudden I have it in focus, although it is half-hidden between the eggs. This is a slug quite unlike the others we have seen today. Its body is compact, lumpy and camouflage green. On its head two wonderfully tall rhinophores stick up, poking above the eggs like periscopes. If the army designed slugs, they would probably look a bit like this.

Palio nothus – looking like a stylish armoured car.

I’m so thrilled I almost keel over backwards as I try to balance my camera and keep the stone steady. This is a Palio nothus; the very first slug of this species I’ve ever found. It is probably feeding on tiny animals called bryozoans on the rock rather than the eggs. It’s barely 5mm long, probably less, and almost impossible to photograph properly with my seized up fingers, but I couldn’t be happier.

Palio nothus among the goby eggs.

This beach is amazing and the slugs are just what I hoped to see, but the best thing of all is to finally share the experience again with amazing friends and my wonderful family. It will take me all day and night to thaw out but I couldn’t care less. This is my happy place.

Rock pooling is a wonderful way to see the wildlife if it is done carefully. If you are heading to the shore, remember to leave the stones, seaweed and animals exactly as you found them. Take nothing with you and leave nothing behind. There are lots of rockpooling tips on this site to help you rockpool safely and sustainably and identify your finds.

A Shore In Recovery on St Piran’s Day

We tread extra-carefully around the pool, even though we’ve already guessed the St Piran’s hermit crabs won’t be here. The trail of destruction left by the powerful easterly gales is evident: boulders have been lifted by the waves and tossed far from their usual positions, the rich coatings of sponges, squirts and hydroids on their undersides gone. Life is still going on but not as before.

Junior finds a rock goby and some pipefish, but the pool feels like a shadow of its former self. The signs are not good for the nursery of young St Piran’s hermit crabs* (Clibanarius erythropus) that we have been monitoring for the last year.

One thing we have learned from watching these starry eyed, red-whiskered, bristly-legged hermit crabs is that they tend to huddle together. Unlike our common ‘Bernard’ hermits, we usually find the St Piran’s crabs congregated in just two pools on the beach. In this particular pool, there is a central rocky island where all the tiny young crabs like to hang out under a sponge-coated rock, scuttling around like a bunch of kids at the soft play, while the adults are normally found quietly feeding in an adjacent pool.

The St Piran’s hermit crab nursery last year. Every shell has a juvenile St Piran’s crab in it.

We haven’t seen a single St Piran’s hermit crab in the adult pool. They are easily distinguished from the common hermit by their equal-sized claws and bright red antennae, which are visible at a quick glance, even if most of the crab is well-hidden in the shell.

A fully grown St Piran’s crab with the distinctive red antennae, equal sized claws, black and white-spotted eyes and blue-striped leg tips.

As we approach the nursery area I almost don’t want to look. I see a common periwinkle shell sprout legs and my heart jumps. I kneel on a rock to look closely, but it is a common hermit crab, using its oversized right pincer to explore the coral weed, searching for food.

The common ‘Bernard’ hermit crab has yellow-green eyes, a right claw that is bigger than the left and pale antennae.

Among the nursery rocks, there is nothing.

Last time we were here, before the storms hit, every little shell had a St Piran’s hermit crab inside. Now, apart from a broad clawed porcelain crab clinging to the underside of a stone, the area is eerily quiet.

Cornwall’s shores are no strangers to fierce weather and, in places, there are signs of a recovery already, with new seaweed growth and newly-forming sea squirts. St Piran’s hermit crabs, on the other hand, are already at the northern limit of their range here, so they may not cope well with cold winter gales and dips in the sea temperature.

At the far end of the pool I find a chiton on the rock and stop to take a photo. These animals are molluscs but look more like woodlice than snails with their plate-armour shells. Unlike their crustacean look-alikes they have no legs and live firmly attached to the rock.

The colours of the chiton (Lepidochitona cinerea) blend in with the rock.

A flat periwinkle shell on the sand behind the chiton catches my eye. It’s not an unusual shell, but the living shells are usually found feeding on the seaweed and most of the loose shells have been swept away by the storm. There are other small shells close by and they are likely to all be hermit crabs.

My instincts are good. Just as I turn the flat periwinkle shell and glimpse the red antennae deep inside, Junior crouches next to me and shouts that he thinks he can see a St Piran’s crab.

Our first glimpse of a your St Piran’s hermit crab in the pool.

We soon discover that every little shell in this part of the pool is a St Piran’s. Our nursery crabs are still here and have upgraded to bigger shells. There are dozens of them.

Our St Piran’s crab emerges to check us out. It still has some growing to do but is far bigger than last year. It now has the classic colours of the adult crab.
We soon discover lots more shells, all with St Piran’s hermit crabs inside.

It is still early days for this hermit crab that returned to Cornwall’s shores relatively recently after a long absence. In the past it was only an intermittent resident but warming seas may enable these hermit crabs to breed successfully here. On the other hand, an increase in storm events or a weakening of the Gulf Stream could have the opposite effect. A changing climate risks heavier rain bringing more pollution from our rivers and changes in marine oxygen levels and in the plankton on which the food chain depends.

The marine ecosystem is sensitive to our changing climate and so complex that it is extremely hard to predict the exact impacts of changes. (If you’re interested to find out more, check out the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership 2020 Report Card).

Further down the shore we find slightly less storm damage and some of the rock pool residents in their usual places. A young topknot flatfish demonstrates its ability to sucker onto the rocks and glide across the seabed, moulding its body to every contour.

Topknot flatfish suckering onto the rock.

In what feels like a reward for our persistence, we find a fabulous Geitodoris planata slug on the lower shore. This time of year, lots of slugs are beginning to spawn.

Geitodoris planata (formerly known by the wonderful name Discodoris planata). The white patches on its back are acid glands used as a defence against predators.

We find a second G. planata in another pool. I am tempted to do some matchmaking, but we leave the slugs where we found them and let nature take its course.

The second Geitodoris planata, looking especially flat and starry.
A close-up of those acid glands (the white stars).

The sun is shining, the St Piran’s crabs are still here, we have seen our favourite nudibranch slug and we have every reason to think that the shore will recover well from the impact of the storms as the spring arrives.

All that is left to do is to head home to prepare our pasties and saffron buns for St Piran’s Day. I would share photos of them, but they were gone too fast!

Gool Peran Lowen!

* I understand that some our lovely neighbours in Devon aren’t so keen on the use of the common name ‘St Piran’s’ for the Clibanarius erythropus hermit crab, which has returned to parts of West Devon as well as to Cornwall. I am completely biased, but the name seems a good fit and it saves me from attempting to pronounce the scientific name. The legend of St Piran says that he was thrown into the sea in his native Ireland with a millstone tied to him, but floated across the sea to Cornwall. The hermit crabs also arrived floating in the plankton from somewhere, most likely Brittany, which also has connections with St Piran. The hermit crab’s striking black and white eyes match the colours of the Cornish flag. I’ve heard plenty of other common names for this crab and anyone can invent their own. In other parts of Europe Clibanarius erythropus has names meaning ‘Little Hermit Crab’, ‘Devil’s Hand Crab’ and ‘Antisocial Crab’, among others.