Tag Archives: Looe

A plaice in the sun and a starfish (Asterina phylactica)

It’s a while since we did evening rockpooling, but the days are lengthening again and there’s something satisfying about reaching the beach just as the daytime crowds are melting away. We meet friends in Looe and explore rocks just beyond the main beach.

East Looe rocks in the evening
East Looe rocks in the evening.

The tide’s not especially low so we have no expectation of finding much. Cornish Rock Pools junior and his friends scale rocks and leap across gullies, stopping occasionally to examine anemones and watch hermit crabs emerging.

I sit and stare into a deep pool that’s lined with pink coral weed, running my fingers through to see what lives there. Below the surface the water temperature drops away, providing a constant cool environment for the pool’s inhabitants.

It’s hard to make out if it’s really there or not, but my eyes think they see a minute star shape among the coralline weed. I trawl my fingers through the weed a couple of times before I think I’ve honed in. Sure enough, I lift an Asterina phylactica starfish from the water. It looks like a baby next to the cushion star in my bucket, but it’s a fully grown adult.

Asterina phylactica, East Looe rocks
Asterina phylactica, East Looe rocks

I’ve only found this species in a few pools around the south coast before. This is a new location. Small species like this are often under-recorded and may be more common than they seem. I tend to find them in these cool pools with plenty of pink weed to hide in, so I’m going to make a point of looking for them on all my rockpooling forays this year.

My sharp-eyed other half announces he’s found a flat fish at the same instant that Junior announces he needs the toilet. I grab the big bucket and offer to catch the fish while Junior goes for a walk with his dad.

Flat fish have near-perfect camouflage against the sand, rocks and weed. They also like to part-bury themselves in the sea bed to maximise the effect. I creep forwards from the seaward end of the rocky gully, treading slowly and lifting seaweed, hoping that if I disturb the fish, I’ll flush it into shallower water where it’s easier to catch. Flat fish are nippy swimmers so I have little chance of finding or catching the thing, but it’s fun to try.

As I look into some kelp, I see a change in the texture of the sand. I move the seaweed a fraction and there it is. The fish is facing up the gully, so I place the bucket ahead of it, scooping it forwards at the same time as stroking the fish’s tail.

For the first time ever, the technique works and the fish swims straight into the bucket.

Young plaice looking a bit cramped in my big bucket.
Young plaice looking a bit cramped in my big bucket.

I expect it to be a topknot, the most common flatfish on the shore, which can cling to the underside of rocks, but this fish has bright orange spots. It’s a plaice (Pleuronectes platessa); only a small one, but it doesn’t have much room to move in the bucket.

Flat fish can be tricky to identify, but the plaice is easily recognised by its orange spots.
Flat fish can be tricky to identify, but the plaice is easily recognised by its orange spots.

We keep it until the boys come back from their walk. The children take turns to touch the plaice’s back, discovering it to be smooth and a little slimy. The older boy walks down to the gully with me and releases the fish into the rising tide. It slides out and is gone in an instant, invisible once more among the weed and sand.

Close up of the plaice's skin shows its scales and the characteristic spot of bright orange pigment.
Close up of the plaice’s skin shows its scales and the characteristic spot of bright orange pigment.

For a mediocre tide, it’s a productive evening and with the summer still young, there should be plenty more evening forays to come this year.

Plaice, like all flatfish have evolved asymmetric features. The eye position on top of the head is perfect to enable good vision while lurking on the sea bed.
Plaice, like all flatfish have evolved asymmetric features. The eye position on top of the head is perfect to enable good vision while lurking on the sea bed.

Looking Rock Pools in the Eyes

Is there anywhere better in the UK to get up close to an array of wild animals than the rock pools? When the tides and weather come together, as they did this weekend, the rockpool creatures are hard to miss. There are eyes staring back at you from every shimmering pool.

This clump of fish eggs was dangling among some red Lomentaria seaweed. Through my camera lens the dark, metallic specks in the eggs were magnified and I could see hundreds of fish eyes staring out at me.

Fish eggs, each one a nearly-developed animal with colourful eyes.
Fish eggs, each one a nearly-developed animal with colourful eyes.

As Cornish Rock Pools junior and I moved a rock, he shrieked with excitement. He knows better than to get close to a ‘devil’ crab –  velvet swimming crab – but we watched it sculling through the shallow water. It buried itself there with just its eyes showing.

The unmistakeable red eyes of the velvet swimming crab.
The unmistakeable red eyes of the velvet swimming crab.
This shot of the velvet swimming crab's back leg shows why it's such a great swimmer. The flat paddle and side hairs propel it through the water at great speed.
This shot of the velvet swimming crab’s back leg shows why it’s such a great swimmer. The flat paddle and side hairs propel it through the water at great speed.

It was hard to see the eyes on the next creature we found – or even to tell if it was anything at all. Still, if a shell or some seaweed starts running off, it’s a good sign there’s an animal in it. This wriggling piece of seaweed turned out to be a small species of spider crab – a decorator crab. This one was beautifully adorned with seaweed it had collected. The left claw is clearly visible in this photo and the eyestalks are just behind it (honest!).

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A decorator spider crab (macropodia sp.) well-covered in seaweed.

A highlight of this weekend’s rockpooling was the range of sea slugs. Some species were so small they looked like nothing more than a spot of jelly on a rock. Out of the water they lose all of their structure so we always put them in a shallow tray of water to watch them fluff up into their true selves.

An Aeolidiella alderi sea slug. This slug has a distinctive white ruff of short cerrata (tentacles) behind its head.
An Aeolidiella alderi sea slug. This slug has a distinctive white ruff of short cerrata (tentacles) behind its head.
Limacia clavigera sea slug. This slug has striking orange-tipped clubs all around its body, with matching feathery gills on its back and ridged rhinophores (like antennae).
Limacia clavigera sea slug. This slug has striking orange-tipped clubs all around its semi-transparent body, with matching feathery gills on its back and ridged rhinophores (like antennae).
This plump sheep slug (Aeolidia papillosa) was so fluffy and soft that one of Cornish Rock Pools junior's friends fell in love with it.
This plump sheep slug (Aeolidia papillosa) was so fluffy and soft that one of Cornish Rock Pools junior’s friends fell in love with it.
Out of the water, sea slugs appear to be blobs of jelly. In the water they are transformed.
Out of the water, sea slugs appear to be blobs of jelly. In the water they are transformed.

The rockpools were so full of life in the spring sunshine that we could hardly move for crabs running around our feet and anemones nestling in the sand.

An especially red dahlia anemone buried in the sand.
An especially red dahlia anemone buried in the sand.

Right at the end of our rockpooling session I pulled back some seaweed and moved in close to the rock, looking for tiny sea slugs. It took me several seconds to realise how close my nose was to this hefty crab (at which point I gave an unprofessional shriek and nearly fell over backwards).

A large edible crab in a crevice.
A large edible crab in a crevice.

Fortunately it was just an edible crab. This species is generally placid and has calm green eyes, unlike the red-eyed devil crab which would probably have taken my nose and run off with it!

There were more eyes looking at us out of the pools than I can write about here, from huge spider crabs to the tiny sea spiders – as well as some creatures that had no visible eyes at all. This is a wonderful time of year in the rock pools and we’re already looking forward to the next spring tides so we can see who we meet next.

Cornish rock pools junior found this lively ragworm that swam so vigorously it almost jumped out of the pot.
Cornish rock pools junior found this lively ragworm that swam so vigorously it almost jumped out of the pot.

 

 

 

 

Rockpooling at Hannafore – Video

A variegated scallop opens up showing its multiple eyes then snaps shut. A topknot flatfish skimming along the sand. Just some of the creatures I saw in the rockpools at Hannafore, Looe today on the low spring tide.

I was a too busy taking kids ‘shark hunting’ to take more video today. It was a successful mission; we found more than twenty live egg cases of the Nursehound (Scyliorhinus stellaris) and one live Smallspotted catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula) egg case. There were all sorts of other treasures too.

I’m already looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow.

 

Rockpooling Heaven (And a downpour)

The sun is shining and, for the first time in months, I can feel the warmth on my face. With calm seas, the tide has run out even further than I hoped, rockpooling conditions here in Looe are near-perfect. There are ominous clouds looming over the hills behind me, but I choose not to look at them.

Perfect - this sheltered gully has weathered the storms.
Perfect – this sheltered gully has weathered the storms.

After the fierce storms, I half expect to find the rockpools empty, scoured of life, but I couldn’t be more wrong. I explore an area of my local shore in Looe that I don’t often visit and within minutes I have found my new favourite rockpooling spot, a gully that’s visibly wriggling with life. Continue reading Rockpooling Heaven (And a downpour)

Staring Into Pools

The lack of time before the sea laps back in can sometimes make the hunt for sea creatures a bit of a frantic affair. Add eager small children to the mix and the clock is ticking. After a busy week, I took the time to stop and stare and it paid off.

Enticing Cornish rock pools in the sunshine
Enticing Cornish rock pools in the sunshine

The wide blue skies gave us perfect conditions for taking our Easter visitors and their children rock pooling this week and I’m pretty sure they weren’t disappointed. A quick search was enough to find starfish, blennies, crabs and shells to wow our guests.

Inevitably a child fell in a rock pool – but fortunately it was fearless Cornish Rock Pools junior. He was already shouting, ‘I’m all right,” as I hooked him out and he ran off to climb rocks as soon as I’d wrung out his coat.

A female Xantho incisus crab carrying her eggs
A female Xantho incisus crab carrying her eggs

On Monday, another set of visitors arrived with their teenage boy, so the pace was suddenly less urgent.

As I clambered over the rocks with my friend’s son, I pointed out shallow pools packed with snakelocks anemones and we sat awhile entranced by the tangle of moving tentacles.

Watching tentacles moving in a pool packed with snakelocks anemones
Watching tentacles moving in a pool packed with snakelocks anemones

“Sometimes,” I said, “if you sit and stare at a pool for long enough, you begin to notice things you didn’t realise were there.”

We were looking into a clear rock-top pool lined with pink corraline seaweed. “You might even spot rare creatures, you just have to make time to look,” I explained.

I trailed my finger gently through the seaweed a few times. Then a few times more, and a tiny star shape came into view. I reached in and lifted it on the tip of my finger, realising it might just be… yes, it was… an Asterina phylactica.

The tiny Asterina phylactica starfish
The tiny Asterina phylactica starfish

I’m probably not meant to have favourites, but Asterina phylactica are absolutely, without a doubt, my favourite sea stars. They are decorated with dots of bright colour, like little gems. I don’t often see them and had no idea they lived here at my local beach.

Of course, I was there without my camera so I went back today for some more staring.

 After half an hour of gazing into pools and browsing the seaweed, I finally found this little fellow.

ASterina phylactica are easily recognised by the little circles of colour which often form a dark central star shape
Asterina phylactica are easily recognised by the little circles of colour which often form a dark central star shape

 I walked out to the lower shore and stood in a welly-deep pool staring and staring some more. I’m not sure how long I was there before this little stalked jellyfish caught my eye. The Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis is another beautiful little animal that I don’t often see.

A stalked jelly - Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis
A stalked jelly – Lucernariopsis cruxmelitensis

 Sometimes it pays to stop and stare.

If I looked away for a second, it was almost impossible to spot this stalked jellyfish again.
If I looked away for a second, it was almost impossible to spot this stalked jellyfish again.

 

Random Rockpooling and a Sad Sight

“Let’s go rockpooling.” It’s a familiar cry in our house, but for once it’s not me saying it.

It’s a luxury to live within walking distance of the beach; a luxury I pined for when I moved away from Cornwall for work in my twenties.

Now I’m back and any time the tide is low I can wander down to the shore and rummage in the kelp and pools. Often, though, life gets in the way. Even when conditions are perfect, there are jobs to be done, people to see, deadlines to meet and the rest of the family to consider. They enjoy rockpooling, but I sometimes suspect they maybe don’t love it to the same extent I do. Continue reading Random Rockpooling and a Sad Sight

‘The best day of my life.’ – Rockpooling with Cornwall Home Educators

It’s amazing to watch the rock pools appear. Just an hour ago, as we ate our picnic on Hannafore beach, two ladies were swimming just a hundred metres away. Now the tide has slipped back to reveal the dark, alluring rocks. An egret flies down to stalk the distant pools and oystercatchers follow, trilling loudly.

Hannafore Beach with Looe Island Nature Reserve in the background.
Hannafore Beach with Looe Island Nature Reserve in the background.

‘I want to go rockpooling. Now. Now,’ a little boy pleads, dragging on my arm. Tide and time can never move fast enough when you’re five. Continue reading ‘The best day of my life.’ – Rockpooling with Cornwall Home Educators