Tag Archives: Cornish 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.

A week of nature photos

I did my first Facebook challenge this week: #challengeonnaturephotography. One nature photo a day for a week.

I normally operate a ‘just say no/ pretend I haven’t seen it’ policy when it comes to nominations for social media challenges, but this one caught my eye. It was hard to know what to choose, but, of course, I majored on photos of the Cornish rock pools.

Given how much I squirm when I’m nominated for anything, I haven’t tagged anyone to carry on the challenge. But, if you’d like to share photos of wild things and places you love with your friends, please do take it up.

So here’s what I picked… Continue reading A week of nature photos

Colourful and Endearing – Video: Meet the Flat Periwinkle

If you’ve ever collected shells on the shore, you’ve probably homed in on the bright yellow, orange, white and even chequerboard colours of the flat periwinkle. Their shells look like a miniature version of the garden snail, but smaller, tougher and much, much brighter.

Flat periwinkle in a Cornish rock pool
A flat periwinkle on the mid-shore seaweed

This time of year, when the seas are rough and the lower shore is hard to reach, I love to search among the seaweeds of the mid and upper shore. The flat periwinkles’ vivid colours shine out like jewels among the tangle of brown seaweeds.

On a damp day at my local beach, it doesn’t take me long to find dozens of them. They’re in no danger of drying out today so they’re busy grazing, tentacles waving from side to side, black eyes on the lookout for crabs and other predators.

An orange-banded flat periwinkle on the move - showing its eye and tentacles.
An orange-banded flat periwinkle on the move – showing its eye and tentacles.

Close-up they’re endearing little things, a herd of gentle grazers feeling their way through the swathes of seaweed. In this video you can see how they search out food with their tentacles. Watch them reaching out their proboscis mouth, pink radula pulsing as they rasp away at the seaweed.

In a patch of seaweed around five metres square, I find a huge variety of colours. These variations probably offer some protection from predators, as does the covering of microalgae on many flat periwinkles, which gives them a green colour.

Some flat periwinkles are white or cream coloured
Some flat periwinkles are white or cream coloured

Whatever the reasons for their varied colours, they make the flat periwinkle one of the most striking shells on the shore. (Note: If you collect shells, please always remember to check they’re empty before you take them home.)

Some flat periwinkles are black or brown. The variety probably provides protection from predators.
Some flat periwinkles are black or brown. The variety probably provides protection from predators.

It’s so easy to get close to these animals and watch them in action. Look out for them next time you’re at the beach.

 About flat periwinkles…

There are two species of flat periwinkle, Littorina obtusata and Littorina mariae. In theory L. mariae has a flatter profile and is the smaller of the two with a thicker shell, but on the shore they vary and mix so it is hard to distinguish between the two species.

Generally, you find Littorina obtusata on the mid-upper shore, especially on egg wrack and Littorina mariae on the lower shore, especially on serrated wrack. The main difference is that L. obtusata tucks into the seaweeds it lives on, whereas L. mariae likes to graze on organisms that live on the its preferred seaweeds. Each one prefers to live on the seaweeds mainly found on its own zone of the shore.

The animals in these pictures are almost certainly Littorina obtusata given their location and diet. However, as far as I know the only way to be certain is to examine the animal’s penis – not something I intend to do. The Field Studies Council have a great paper on the habits and identification of the two flat periwinkle species (including penis shapes) here: http://fsj.field-studies-council.org/media/342551/vol7.3_202.pdf. Take a look if you’d like to know more.

A tiny yellow flat periwinkle grazing among the Cornish rock pools.
A tiny yellow flat periwinkle grazing among the Cornish rock pools.

 

 

A Variegated Scallop Takes a Little Swim

Here’s something I’ve never seen before. While I was rockpooling, I lifted a stone and found this little variegated scallop, which is a smaller cousin of the scallops people eat. As I watched it began to open and I guessed it might take a little swim so I took this short video.

All scallops can swim but they don’t do it very often because it takes a lot of energy. I think this one was thought I might be a predator and wanted to swim back to the safety of a rock. It was surprisingly speedy.

Filmed at Hannafore Beach, West Looe, Cornwall on 31 August 2015 during a very low spring tide.

A guided rockpooling tour

We all love spending time with likeminded people, don’t we? So, when a keen diver from Newquay contacts me to request a guided rockpooling tour, I can’t resist. Unusually for a bank holiday weekend, the sun pushes the clouds away and leaves behind a perfect, calm shore ready for us to explore.

We’ve barely known each other a minute before we’re enthusing about the joys of going slowly and taking the time to look for underwater life. We discover our shared love of nudibranchs (sea slugs – read on, they’re lovely, really!). I assure my new friend that we’ll find plenty of wildlife, including some species few divers ever see, and all with minimum kit, no buoyancy control and a limitless supply of air.

The underside of a painted top shell showing the mother-of-pearl lining
The underside of a painted top shell showing the mother-of-pearl lining

Despite being familiar with edible crabs and velvet swimming crabs from diving, there are several species of intertidal crabs that are new to my guest. Continue reading A guided rockpooling tour

The Zen Guide to Rockpooling

  • Pick a quiet day of the week
  • At a quiet time of year
  • On a day with quiet weather
  • Go slowly and quietly
  • Stop. Watch. Let time go

February is a wonderful month for rock pooling in Cornwall. Well, we think so, although we consider a packet of chocolate biscuits a pre-requisite for achieving anything, especially enlightenment, so Continue reading The Zen Guide to Rockpooling