Tag Archives: sea hare

Festive Rock Pooling

Tis the season for overspending, overindulgence and over-exhaustion, so what better way to recharge the batteries than some fresh air and rock pool exploration? It’s a family tradition for us this time of year to head in the opposite direction from the shops and to take a breather on the beach.

Christmas cards don’t often depict the traditional Cornish winter weather for good reason. Between the fog and the persistent mizzle, we have to imagine the view through the valley to the beach. Even when we arrive on the shore, we can barely make out the sea, although we can hear it crashing over the rocks and surging up the gullies.

Waves breaking out of the mist at Porth Mear
Waves breaking out of the mist at Porth Mear

The lower shore might be unsafe, but there’s no shortage of colour and variety in the sheltered pools. The rain kindly stops for long enough to let us enjoy our potter through the pools and we have the beach to ourselves.

Other Half finds a large common hermit crab, Pagurus bernhardus, tapping at a shell and we wonder if the crab’s about to move house. Looking closely, the shell it’s interested in is smaller than its own shell and when I look inside there are legs in there. Most likely our hermit is carrying a female around with her until she moults, hoping to mate with her when she does.

Hermit crab holding on to his mate at Porth Mear
Hermit crab holding on to his mate at Porth Mear

The rock pool wildlife couldn’t care less that it’s Christmas, but the bright anemones can’t help but look festive and are all the easier to see now that the seaweeds have died back for the winter.

Snakelocks anemone
Snakelocks anemone
Beadlet anemones at Porth Mear
Beadlet anemones at Porth Mear

Stalked jellyfish are also easier to see on the remaining short crops of Irish moss and red seaweeds in the pools. In a short stretch I find Haliclystus octoradiatus and a beautiful red Calvadosia campanulata stalked jelly.

Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish at Porth Mear
Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish at Porth Mear
Calvadosia campanulata stalked jelly
Calvadosia campanulata stalked jelly

Another jelly blob catches my eye, just a minute red speck among the seaweed. It seems to be moving, so I focus in with my camera to reveal a baby sea hare grazing its way across a tuft of seaweed. Its red sides seem to be snow-speckled with white and its black-fringed parapodia look like a tiny chimney pot.

Baby sea hare, Aplysia punctata.
Baby sea hare, Aplysia punctata.

In a few months’ time, if it survives the winter, this slug will swell and grow into a fat brown lump many times this size, feeding on the spring growth of seaweed.

Zipping across a shallow pool, a fish smaller than my little finger heads for the shelter of a low rocky ridge where it lies still, relying on its camouflage. The young shanny obligingly sits still for a couple of photos.

A young shanny (Common blenny)
A young shanny (Common blenny)

Soft rain begins to blow into my face as I work my way back over the slippery rocks to rejoin Other Half and Junior, who are entertaining themselves with the noble sport of throwing stones at other stones.

No Christmas stress for us... with the beach to ourselves and an endless supply of stones to throw.
No Christmas stress for us… with the beach to ourselves and an endless supply of stones to throw.

With our wallets intact and our appetites renewed, we’re ready for the feasting to begin.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas. Here’s to more rock pooling adventures in 2019!

A Christmas cushion star!
A Christmas cushion star!

 

Giant birthday surprises – a rare sea hare and a greater pipefish

There are lots of benefits to having a summer birthday; the sun usually shines, the rock pools shimmer and it’s just about warm enough to put my snorkel on and jump in. The beach has lots of presents in store for me today, including a huge greater pipefish, a cousin of the sea horse, and a rare sea slug. No unwrapping required.

A juvenile Aplysia depilans - a rare sea hare in UK waters.
A juvenile Aplysia depilans – a rare sea hare in UK waters.

It’s holiday season , but a little planning and some walking is all that is needed to find a peaceful cove. We set off to Port Nadler in perfect, calm conditions loaded with wetsuits, buckets and an ample picnic.

A typical rock pool at Port Nadler near Looe
A typical rock pool at Port Nadler near Looe

Under a rock I spot what I think is a very large anemone, but it looks odd. I’m still trying to puzzle it out when it crawls away, unfurling long ear-like tentacles from its head. It’s a sea hare but more bulky than the ones I normally see (Aplysia punctata).

I think I've found a strange anemone
I think I’ve found a strange anemone
Surprise! It turns into a sea hare.
Surprise! It turns into a sea hare.

As it oozes towards me across the rock I’m struck by its face, more like a hippo than a hare with wide flapping ears and a broad snout. Very occasionally larger sea hares, Aplysia depilans, have been found around the southern shores of the UK, and I begin to wonder.

Aplysia depilans - looking more like a sea hippo than a sea hare
Aplysia depilans – looking more like a sea hippo than a sea hare

I contact experts who have seen them before and they confirm it is a juvenile Aplysia deplians – a rare find and a species I’ve never seen before. Happy birthday to me!

It’s still cold for snorkelling and I only last about a quarter of an hour before my teeth start to chatter, but it’s worth it. After several minutes of seeing nothing but kelp, silt and the occasional two-spot goby, a long snake-like body catches my eye. It’s the unmistakeable shape of a greater pipefish (Syngnathus acus).

The greater pipefish looks out from the weeds
The greater pipefish looks out from the weeds

These fish grow to about arm length and have a hexagonal cross-section. This one hardly moves, relying on camouflage for defence, its long nose stretching out over the sand.

Greater pipefish - a cousin of the seahorse
Greater pipefish – a cousin of the seahorse

I drift back into shore, and find a compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella) stranded in the shallows. It takes its name from the beautiful markings on its back, but I don’t go too close – sea nettle is its other common name.

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

Back on the shore, I huddle on the sand, wrapped in jumpers and towels, shivering and eating cake. Birthdays don’t get any better than this.

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 were being picked up by the current

 

Up close to a red-eyed velvet swimming crab (Necora puber)
Up close to a red-eyed velvet swimming crab (Necora puber)

 

Cornish clingfish eggs - little eyes and noses visible inside
Cornish clingfish eggs – little eyes and noses visible inside
A snorkel-scape. Thong weed at Port Nadler near Looe
A snorkel-scape. Thong weed at Port Nadler near Looe

Spring in the Cornish Rock Pools

Spring is a wonderful time of year in the Cornish rock pools, although like all things British, it’s hard to predict when it will arrive.

 This time of year, the fish are moving inshore to lay their eggs. In many common shore species, the male stays close by, protecting the eggs until the baby fish hatch. Blennies, in particular, are frequently found hiding among the rocks, close to their precious broods.

A tompot blenny (male) guards his eggs
A tompot blenny (male) guards his eggs
Fish eggs under a rock. Inside, lots of tiny eyes look back at me.
Fish eggs under a rock. Inside, lots of tiny eyes look back at me.

Many crabs too are ‘in berry’, tucking their clutches of eggs Continue reading Spring in the Cornish Rock Pools