Category Archives: Anemones and Jellyfish

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

Summer Lazing in Cornwall’s Rock Pools

It’s funny how the summer days float by. The house has been practically bursting with people for weeks now and I haven’t found the space to write about our many beach trips, but August still feels like a lazy month.

It reminds me of my childhood summers; a jumble of paddling, swimming, rockpooling and finds. Only I’ve just turned 40 and now I’m the one remembering hats and towels, preparing picnics and being called on constantly to help build dams or identify creatures. Every few days I realise that I’ve failed to take many photos and still haven’t blogged anything I’ve found. It’s just the way August goes.

Compass jellyfish. Also known as sea nettles as they pack quite a little sting, these jellyfish have beautiful markings.
Compass jellyfish. Also known as sea nettles as they pack quite a little sting, these jellyfish have beautiful markings.

The warm waters are drawing in all sorts of creatures at the moment. The north coast especially is teeming with jellyfish. Harmless Moon jellyfish have washed up in their thousands. These transparent little jellies have four mauve circles in their centre in a pattern that reminds me of cucumber slices (OK, that’s probably just me). 

One of many moon jellyfish washed up by the strong swell. This species is harmless.
One of many moon jellyfish washed up by the strong swell. This species is harmless.

Other jellyfish that have mild stings, like the compass jellyfish are also washing in and I think my thigh met with one of the many blue jellies in the water at Mawgan Porth a couple of weeks ago from the unattractive rash I developed! On the plus side, some friends found a spiny starfish in a pool at the top of the mid-shore pools, which looked like it might be feeding on the stranded jellies. Continue reading Summer Lazing in Cornwall’s Rock Pools

Top 5 Fierce(ish) Rockpool Creatures

As you might imagine, we’re fans of nature documentaries in this house and we’re all looking forward to watching Steve Backshall’s new series, Fierce. It’s got me and Cornish Rockpools Junior thinking about opportunities to meet ‘fierce’ wild creatures closer to home.

Of course, these animals aren’t exactly fierce, they’re just equipped to survive the evolutionary arms race with attitudes, weapons and chemicals that aren’t very human-friendly.

You don’t need a plane, a film crew and a ton of equipment to seek out an encounter with a well-armed rockpool ninja. This weekend’s massive low tides are the perfect opportunity to head out onto the shore and check out our top 5 fierce(ish) rockpool creatures.

So, check the tide times, grab a bucket, put on your wellies and take a look…

5. Small spotted catshark

Scyliorhinus canicula - small spotted catshark or dogfish stranded in a Cornish rock pool
Scyliorhinus canicula – small spotted catshark, also known as dogfish – stranded in a Cornish rock pool

These small sharks, often known as dogfish, sometimes become stranded in pools during the very lowest of tides. They’re not at all aggressive, but it’ll sound impressive that you’ve met one. They have incredibly rough skin that used to be used as sandpaper. In some places you can also find their egg cases and those of their larger cousin, the nursehound, attached to seaweed. They take around 7-9 months to hatch out so never detach the egg case from the weed.

The developing greater spotted catshark can be seen at the bottom of the eggcase
The developing greater spotted catshark can be seen at the bottom of this eggcase

4. Snakelocks anemone

This snakelocks anemone looks like it's had a fright - the tentacles were being picked up by the current
This snakelocks anemone looks like it’s had a fright – the tentacles are being picked up by the current

This anemone is common in rockpools all around Cornwall. It’s easy to see how it gets its name from its long snake-like tentacles, which are usually green with purple tips, but sometimes a dull-brown. They’re from the same family as jellyfish and have stinging cells which shoot poisonous harpoons into anything that touches their tentacles. It’s best not to touch this anemone as some people have a reaction to the sting. If you do touch one be sure not to rub your eyes because stinging cells can attach to your skin – wash your hands as soon as you can.

Cornish Rock Pools Junior is convinced snakelocks anemones can eat your foot. That’s unlikely, but watch what they do to this fly…

3. Worms

Worms are often buried in sand and mud burrows - if disturbed they can shoot out their jaws and give a nasty nip.
Worms like this ragworm are often buried in sand and mud burrows – if disturbed they can shoot out their jaws and give a nasty nip.

An unlikely contender, but there are several species of worm on the shore that can be pretty fearsome, especially the larger ragworms. These animals have an extendible jaw that can shoot out and deliver a painful bite. Others, like the bootlace worm secrete a toxic mucus. Handle with care!

Other finds... a bootlace worm. These worms are many metres long when fully extended, but are usually found in a tangled ball like this.
A bootlace worm. These worms are many metres long when fully extended, but are usually found in a tangled ball like this.

2. Compass jellyfish

Compass jellyfish - showing its distinctive markings
Compass jellyfish – showing its distinctive markings

Like the anemone, this jellyfish is armed with lots of nematocysts (stinging cells), but far more powerful. These jellies with their distinctive V-shape compass markings can give you a painful sting. Jellyfish don’t live in the rockpools but are often washed in by the winds and tides, especially in the summer and autumn months. They’re beautiful creatures and well worth a look, but remember not to get close or to put your hands in the water – their tentacles can be hard to see, very long and can become detatched from the main jellyfish, so it’s not worth the risk (yes, that’s talking from experience… I’m a slow learner). There are lots of different species of jellyfish and some, including the massive barrel jellyfish, are harmless, but if you’re not sure, stay clear!

Jellyfish tentacles can be hard to see, so be careful not to put your hands in a pool that has a jellyfish in it (e.g. to take underwater photos of tentacles like this one!)
Jellyfish tentacles can be hard to see. It’s best not to put your hands in a pool that has a jellyfish in it (e.g. to take underwater photos of tentacles like this one!)

1. Devil crab (Velvet Swimming Crab)

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A velvet swimming crab (devil crab) shows off its red eyes.

The top fierce creature award, as voted by Cornish Rock Pools Junior who will not go near them, is [insert fanfare of your choice here]… the velvet swimming crab. This crab, known by Junior and many others who’ve met it as the ‘devil crab’, is afraid of nothing and is always quick to use its pincers. Their dark shells and gleaming red eyes give these crabs a sinister look to match their temperament. They’re brilliantly suited to hunting in the rockpools and shallow seas. If you dare to look closely at one (see ‘How to pick up a crab’), you’ll see that their stripy back legs are flattened into paddles, making them excellent swimmers. Watch out for them lurking buried in the sand, with only those red eyes showing.

As soon as you approach a velvet swimming crab will stand on its back legs, its claws raised, ready for action.
As soon as you approach a velvet swimming crab will stand on its back legs, its claws raised, ready for battle.

There are plenty more dangerous creatures, such as the weever fish and the Portuguese man o’ war, that didn’t make our list because we so rarely see them in the rock pools.

It almost goes without saying that by far the most dangerous creature on the shore is us humans. Marine litter, warming seas, pollutants, overfishing and habitat destruction all threaten our amazing marine life. Please do your bit every time you visit the shore:

  • If you turn any rocks replace them gently, the right way up.
  • Avoid using nets that can harm creatures and tread carefully.
  • If you catch any creatures, keep them in plenty of sea water and return them quickly to where you found them.
  • Don’t leave any litter behind and be aware that sun cream isn’t good for wildlife.
  • Every time you visit a beach take 2 minutes to pick up any rubbish you see.

Have fun and please do let me know what creatures you meet (fierce or otherwise) in the Cornish rock pools.

Worms, slugs and jelly

As anyone who spends time around children knows, they generally delight in things that adults find yucky. So, what better for a day out with Cornish Rock Pools Junior than a visit to a sheltered, silty shore? It’s the perfect environment for all things slimy.

It didn’t take us long to find one of the strangest – and stinkiest – animals on the shore, the bootlace worm. We turned a stone and on one side was the head and part of the tangled body of the brown worm. The rest of the body spanned across to the next boulder like a rope bridge.

The thin, long body of a bootlace worm stretched between two rocks.
The long, thin body of a bootlace worm stretched between two rocks.

The bootlace worm is massively long – the longest recorded apparently came in at 55 metres, making it the longest animal in the Guinness Book of Records. This one would probably have spanned at least 7 metres. Given the difficulties of unravelling the tangled body without breaking it coupled with the fact it exudes acrid-smelling, toxic mucus, we decided against measuring it.

On another rock we found a prettier creature, the candy-stripe flat worm. This one had moulded its paper-thin body to the contours of the rock. When they’re not oozing along like this, they’re reasonable swimmers, albeit with a technique that resembles a tissue blowing along the pavement.

A small candy stripe flatworm oozing along its way.
A small candy stripe flatworm oozing along its way.

We started the search for jellies. The sheltered clumps of seaweed seemed a likely spot for stalked jellies, although Junior’s fascination with kicking up ‘pyroclastic flows’ of silt did hamper visibility a little. For a while we found nothing but ‘snotworm’ eggs, the green eggclumps of the green leaf worm.

When we did find our first jelly blob, it turned out to be another kiddy favourite, a slug. Out of the water, it was a shapeless splodge of yellow. In the water, it stretched out its white body to display yellow stripes and various yellow appendages and antennae.

Sea slug - Polycera quadrilineata
Sea slug – Polycera quadrilineata

As we watched the Polycera quadrilineata slug’s slow progress along the seaweed, we noticed another, more flowery jelly-blob behind it. This was the first of several Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis stalked jellyfish we found.

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

The incoming current was throwing up a cloud of silt, but we managed to find eight stalked jellies among this small area of the shore. Not a bad haul of squidgy, slimy, child-pleasing creatures.

Stalked jellies have stinging tentacles like their cousins, the jellyfish, but live attached to seaweed rather than floating in the ocean.
Stalked jellies have stinging tentacles like their cousins, the jellyfish, but live attached to seaweed rather than floating in the ocean.

 Here are some of our other favourites from this expedition:

A sea spider. These delicate little creatures are perfectly camouflaged among the seaweed.
A sea spider. These delicate little creatures are perfectly camouflaged among the seaweed.
Tubulanus annulatus. This strikingly coloured worm was a first for me and is more commonly seen offshore.
Tubulanus annulatus. This strikingly coloured worm was a first for me and is more commonly seen offshore.
I was right at the depth-limit for my wellies when I found this topknot flat fish scooting along the bottom of a pool. Junior loves their asymmetrical faces.
I was right at the depth-limit for my wellies when I found this topknot flat fish scooting along the bottom of a pool. Junior loves their asymmetrical faces.
More slime! Cowries are able to dangle from the rocks using their strong mucus trails.
More slime! Cowries are able to dangle from the rocks using their strong mucus trails. This one’s in typical abseiling position.

Rockpooling on a mega-tide

This week the spring tides are huge, which means perfect rockpooling conditions all around Cornwall. Yesterday’s ‘storm without a name’ passed just in time and today the sun shone, so I dusted off my waders and followed the tide out to see what it would reveal. Answer: lobsters, baby sharks and a whole lot more.

Greater spotted catshark baby - Scylliorhinus stellatus
Greater spotted catshark baby – Scyliorhinus stellaris

I was hoping to re-discover an overhang packed with jewel anemones at the far end of the beach that I’d come across once before, but couldn’t resist taking a look at the wildlife on the way. You know it’s going to be a good day when the first stone you lift is unexpectedly awesome. This one was hiding a troop of hermit crabs, a rock goby and a beautifully camouflaged scorpion fish. Continue reading Rockpooling on a mega-tide

Stormy weather in the Cornish rock pools

Rockpooling in stormy winter weather can be a risky business here in Cornwall, so my advice is … don’t. At best you get blown over on the slippery rocks and soaked by rain that seems to come in horizontally and go right up your nose. At worst you could end up in the path of the fierce waves and currents. It’s not worth it.

When there’s a calm moment and a good tide (I’m hoping tomorrow will be such a day), there’s plenty to see in the rockpools. Between times, stick to the strandline, where the sea throws up all sorts of treasures and unexpected visitors.

Mauve stinger jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca) at Mawgan Porth
Mauve stinger jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca) at Mawgan Porth

One of my favourites this year was the swarm of mauve stinger jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca). They look small and inoffensive, measuring up to 10cm across their bell. The spotted pattern that gives them their name is distinctive and rather pretty. They can also glow in the dark – noctiluca means night light. Continue reading Stormy weather in the Cornish rock pools