Category Archives: Anemones and Jellyfish

Chilly autumn rockpooling

I’m not a fan of winter. Even though I go rock pooling all year round and love the way the wildlife varies with the seasons, the November to February period is a challenge for me. The thought of sticking my hands in icy-cold water makes me want to hibernate. Right on cue, a fierce northerly wind blows in for the spring tides. I layer up and wear my fluffiest, most comforting jumper to bring you this week’s blog post.

Obelia geniculata - a hydroid known as 'sea fir'.
Obelia geniculata – a hydroid known as ‘Kelp fir’. Recognisable by its zig-zag ‘stems’.

I’m trying to photograph hydroids at the moment. These relatives of the jellyfish and anemones are generally translucent and no more than a few centimetres long, making them hard to spot. At this time of year when the seaweeds die back and the waves roll in, it’s especially tricky. My camera doesn’t like focussing on them and they won’t stay still in the current, but their nodding tentacles and curious structures are mesmerising.

Another hydroid - Coryne pusilla. This one can't retract its tentacles into little cups. It has a ringed stem (visible in the bottom-left of the photo).
Another hydroid – Coryne pusilla. This one can’t retract its tentacles into little cups. It has a ringed stem (visible in the bottom-left of the photo).

As always there are strange creatures galore. This Sea gherkin is unusually large and gnarled.

A Sea gherkin (Pawsonia saxicola) - this is a type of sea cucumber and clings onto the rock with its tentacle feet.
A Sea gherkin (Pawsonia saxicola) – this is a type of sea cucumber and clings onto the rock with its tentacle feet.

Among the sponges and brittle stars I come across this invasive species from the South Pacific, the Orange-tipped sea squirt, Corella eumyota.

The invasive Orange-tipped sea squirt
The invasive Orange-tipped sea squirt

The twisted gut is very prominent in this species and you can see the orange colouration at the top. It’s thought this species may compete with native squirts and other invertebrates, but we will only find out by monitoring its spread. This is the first one I’ve recorded here.

Nearby I find the native sea squirt Ascidia mentula with lovely red flecks in its almost transparent test.

Ascidia mentula - a tunicate sea squirt. The red streaks reminded me of fireworks.
Ascidia mentula – a tunicate sea squirt. The red streaks reminded me of fireworks.

This sponge also catches my eye. It’s hard to identify many sponges with any certainty without examining their spicules under a microscope, but this one has the appearance of Myxilla rosacea.

A striking sponge with its fine structures and deep pores. Possibly Myxilla rosacea.
A striking pink sponge with fine structures and deep pores. Possibly Myxilla rosacea.

On the next tide we make a successful return visit to the beach where Cornish Rock Pools Junior achieved finding a world record haul of stalked jellyfish last year. We come close to matching the numbers we found last time. I lose count at 25 because Junior makes it clear he doesn’t want his record broken.

Many of the stalked jellyfish are juveniles, only a few millimetres long and it tests my eyes to pick them out among the swirling seaweed. Then I spot this 1mm pinprick of a jelly blob and take a photo in case it turns out to be a stalked jelly.

My eyes must still be good - a 1mm baby stalked jellyfish. It's not possible to say for sure what species.
My eyes must still be good – a 1mm baby stalked jellyfish. It’s not possible to say for sure what species.

On my screen at home its column is clearly visible although the tentacles are either retracted or haven’t yet grown. Little is known about the very early stages of development of these creatures and how to separate the species by sight, but David Fenwick who runs the amazing Stauromedusae UK website confirms that it is definitely a stalked jelly.

It’s great to be able to show a friend from Natural England how abundant these species are in the Looe and Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone, which aims to give them protection from developments and disturbance.

Haliclystus octoradiatus - the blobs between the arms are primary tentacles, which easily identify this species from most others we see.
Haliclystus octoradiatus – the blobs between the arms are primary tentacles, which easily identify this species from most others we see.

One of her sons does an impressive job of finding stalked jellies and even finds one that is in the middle of eating an amphipod. The current is too strong to get a great photo, but you can clearly see the unfortunate creature’s head sticking out of the stalked jellyfish’s mouth here.

A stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus) eating an amphipod.
A stalked jellyfish (Haliclystus octoradiatus) eating an amphipod.

I’ll be submitting all my stalked jellyfish records to help reinforce the evidence that will hopefully keep these protected species from harm.

A juvenile Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish. We found 3 species of stalked jellyfish on the site.
A juvenile Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish. We found 3 species of stalked jellyfish on the site.

I can’t help taking a look at some other things while I’m here. But before long the cold is hurting my fingers and chilling my insides in the sort of way that can only be fixed by a steaming mug of hot chocolate.

That’s the bit of winter I look forward to!

Rayed trough shell
Rayed trough shell
Aslia lefevrei - the brown sea cucumber. This sea cucumber lives in crevices in the rock with just its tip poking out.
Aslia lefevrei – the brown sea cucumber. This sea cucumber lives in crevices in the rock with just its dark tip poking out.
Dysidea fragilis - or the hedgehog sponge as I call it.
Dysidea fragilis – or the hedgehog sponge as I call it.
3-spot cowrie hanging on an overhang
3-spot cowrie hanging on an overhang

 

Happy rockpooling!

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A close (enough) encounter with Weever fish.

We’re on a stomp about the beaches between Looe and Seaton, enjoying a patch of sunshine.  “Watch out for Portuguese Man O’War jellies,” I warn Junior as we cross the muddy sand at Millendreath. I know there have been reports of them washing up all around the south west coast over the last few weeks, but there are none today. Inevitably, it’s something else that nearly gets me.

In a sandy pool at the sea’s edge, a flicker of movement catches my eye. It happens so quickly I can’t be sure there’s anything there but the sand is settling, suggesting something has just buried itself.

I call Junior over to look and I crouch low, reaching a hand to the water’s surface. If I can scoop the sand up from underneath I might be able to gently lift out the creature. Having seen plenty of well-camouflaged dragonets scooting about the pools today, I expect this to be another one. I stop short and stare into the shimmering pool.

Dragonets, especially the females, are perfectly camouflaged on sand.
Dragonets, especially the females, are perfectly camouflaged on sand.

It’s a good call. You never know what might be lurking in the rock pools. Near where I saw the movement is a sandy coloured lump. I think I recognise the shape, but it’s only when I lower my camera into the water and zoom right in that I can be sure. A Lesser weever-fish is staring down my lens, its frog-mouth gaping slightly, the rest of its body buried in the sand. Before I can take a shot it’s gone. Continue reading A close (enough) encounter with Weever fish.

Wrasse and wrack

The Cornish summers are anything but predictable. One day I’m sweltering in shorts and beach shoes and the next I’m shivering in waders and a thick jumper. Although the showers are back with a vengeance, there’s always something to be found if I can make it across the rocks without breaking an ankle.

Painted top shell, East Looe
Painted top shell, East Looe

My first outing is to the rocks beyond East Looe beach and I’m pleased to come across a new colony of St Piran’s hermit crabs on the mid-shore.

A St Piran's hermit crab starting to emerge from its shell.
A St Piran’s hermit crab starting to emerge from its shell.

They’re becoming a familiar sight around Cornwall and I’m starting to recognise them from the tips of their red legs, before their chequerboard eyes and equal-sized claws emerge from their shells. Continue reading Wrasse and wrack

The Stalked Jellyfish World Record (for Portwrinkle)

“So is this a world record?” Cornish Rock Pools Junior has just found 26 stalked jellyfish and is feeling rightly proud of himself.

“It’s a record for Portwrinkle,” I tell him. “They’ve never been found here before.”

“But is it a world record?” he insists.

I take a moment to consider this. Only a moment, because my hands are frozen from holding my camera in the water and another snow flurry is starting.

“Yes,” I say. “You now have the world record for finding stalked jellyfish in Portwrinkle.”

From the leaping and cheering, I’d guess he’s satisfied with that.

Cornish Rock Pools Junior searches for stalked jellyfish at Portwrinkle
Cornish Rock Pools Junior searches for stalked jellyfish at Portwrinkle

Continue reading The Stalked Jellyfish World Record (for Portwrinkle)

Christmas Rockpooling in Looe

I doubt anyone in Looe can have missed it – the moment today when Cornish Rock Pools Junior found his first stalked jellyfish. His scream of, “I’ve actually found one!” rang across the beach and echoed off the hillside.

Cornish rockpool junior's first stalked jellyfish - Calvadosia cruxmelitensis
Cornish rockpool junior’s first stalked jellyfish – Calvadosia cruxmelitensis

His first find was closely followed by his second, next to which was a third. A volunteer from Looe Marine Conservation Group found a fourth. The Natural England team found some more and by the time we were done we recorded a whopping 26 Stalked jellyfish.

Calvadosia campanulata stalked jellyfish
Calvadosia campanulata stalked jellyfish

As all our records today were of two species (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis and Calvadosia campanulata) I’m feeling hopeful that they may soon be added as recognised features of the Looe and Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone.

Looe Marine Conservation Group volunteer, Dawn, finds her first Stalked jellyfish on our survey
Looe Marine Conservation Group volunteer, Dawn, finds her first Stalked jellyfish on our survey

In December, good tides, mild temperatures and low winds coincide about as often as it snows on the Cornish coast (i.e. about once every ten years). Amazingly, today was one of those rare occasions and the rockpools were in impressive festive colours. What could be more Christmassy than this Dahlia anemone?

Festive colours in the Cornish rock pools - a Dahlia anemone
Festive colours in the Cornish rock pools – a Dahlia anemone

We were doing so well with our stalked jellyfish survey that I didn’t feel too bad about getting distracted. When I spotted a wriggling piece of seaweed, I chased it across the rocks.

If a piece of seaweed runs off, it's probably a spider crab
If a piece of seaweed runs off, it’s probably a spider crab

As I suspected, under the seaweed decorations was a small spider crab species. This one was a Macropodia deflexa, a long-legged spider crab.

A Macropodia deflexa crab - covered in seaweed decorations
A Macropodia deflexa crab – covered in seaweed decorations

Relying on their camouflage, scorpion fish were lying still among the seaweed, allowing us to come right up to them.

A scorpion fish hides among the seaweed
A scorpion fish hides among the seaweed

It was a huge relief that everything turned out so well for our Stalked jellyfish survey. Had the conditions been less favourable we’d have been more likely to find none at all. 26 was an amazing total.

I needed my hot chocolate afterwards, but it was an afternoon well spent with some fabulous people. And tomorrow the forecast is even better… I’ll let you know what I find!

Another Christmas sea-flower - the Daisy anemone. In full bloom at Hannafore, Looe
Another Christmas sea-flower – the Daisy anemone. In full bloom at Hannafore, Looe
Like a string of Christmas lights - the Blue-rayed limpet
Like a string of Christmas lights – the Blue-rayed limpet
Our Stalked jellyfish survey at Hannafore Beach, West Looe
Our Stalked jellyfish survey at Hannafore Beach, West Looe

 

On a stalked jellyfish mission…

 

My local area is special and it’s partly down to some fabulous little jellies we find here.

Looe and Whitsand Bay was one of the first to be designated a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) three years ago. Apparently Ocean quahog (a clam shell), pink sea fans, pink sea fan anemones and a stalked jellyfish species (Haliclystus sp.) can all be found here.

As you'd expect, stalked jellyfish have a stalk which attaches to seaweed so they don't float around like other jellies. They have eight arms with tentacles on the end.
As you’d expect, stalked jellyfish have a stalk which attaches to seaweed so they don’t float around like other jellies. They have eight arms with tentacles on the end.

I’m hoping we can add more species to that list. There have been some local records of giant gobies, which are one of the MCZ ‘feature’ species and we’ve found three other species of stalked jellyfish on our beaches.

The problem with stalked jellyfish is that they’re tiny and seaweed coloured. In theory, the winter die-back of seaweed makes them easier to see, but Cornish winters don’t often provide the calm conditions you need to spot stalked jellies. Consequently not many people see them and even fewer people record their discoveries on ORKS – so please, please do share your finds!

In a quest to add more evidence that these species are present in significant numbers, I take Cornish Rock Pools Junior for a wander through the pools at a quiet local bay.

Grey herons like fishing in this quiet bay - Plaidy beach, East Looe
Grey herons like fishing in this quiet bay – Plaidy beach, East Looe

I find it’s best to focus on nothing else if I’m going to find stalked jellies. The problem is, as anyone who’s seen me in the vicinity of a chocolate hobnob will know, that I have no willpower. So, I spend the first half hour snapping this gorgeous strawberry anemone as it stretches its tentacles towards the last of the autumn sunshine. Continue reading On a stalked jellyfish mission…

Home from Home: Quiberon in Brittany

Things have been quiet on this page the last couple of months. Cornish Rock Pools Junior, Other Half and I took an extended holiday to visit the towns and beaches of Brittany. As always our travels had a bit of a marine theme…

Est-ce que c’est un anémone?” the eager child in the dark-rimmed spectacles asks. We explain what a ‘stalked jellyfish’ is to the class of seven-year-olds. “Jellyfish!” they chant.

 

Stalked jellyfish - a Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis.
Stalked jellyfish – a Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis.

Between fascinating excursions to the fire station and the sardine factory, we are giving impromptu English lessons to a class of primary school students during our twinning visit to Quiberon in Brittany.

 

We have covered the words goby, crab, jellyfish and shark so far and there’s still a sea of raised hands. The children seem desperate to tell us about their finds around the shores of Quiberon. Continue reading Home from Home: Quiberon in Brittany