Tag Archives: starfish

Starfish and Blue-Rayed Limpets on a gloomy day

The clocks have gone back, endless bands of rain are pushing in from the grey sea and the UK government has announced there will be a general election during the festive season. It might be easier to hide under a duvet and attempt hibernation, but Junior and I have other plans. We grab a camera each and race to the rock pools in search of brightness and sparkle.

To the rock pools!

Millendreath beach near Looe is cold enough to warrant silly winter hats – mine has big ear flaps and Junior’s is a Christmas pudding – we don’t care what we look like as long as we’re comfortable. We head out onto a rocky outcrop that gives us some shelter from the north-easterly winds and begin our search. When I find a spiny starfish twice the size of my hand in the first pool we come to, we know it’s going to be a good day.

Junior takes a look at the tube feet on the underside of the spiny starfish.

Moving towards the sea, the gullies are full of leathery kelp and Junior knows just what to look for. The iridescent blue dashed lines on the shells of blue-rayed limpets are his favourite thing to photograph and at this time of year, some of the kelp is studded with these miniature jewels.

Blue rayed limpets on kelp – photo by Cornish Rock Pools Junior.

While Junior gets to work trying to capture these colours, I edge along the slippery rocks towards a tall overhang. Sponges and sea squirts coat the rocks in a huge range of hues from pinks and yellows to blues and greens. Among them are cowries, which feed on the sea squirts. One has abseiled down from the rock and is hanging by its mucous thread.

This Arctic cowrie has abseiled from the top of the rock and is still holding on to its thread of mucus.
A pair of Arctic cowries with their shells partly covered by their dark-striped mantles.

Nearby, a common starfish is trying to hide in a crevice but its bright orange colour gives it away. In the dark behind it, a Xantho hydrophilus crab is doing a better job of blending in.

A bright star on a gloomy day – common starfish at Millendreath.
Xantho hydrophilus crab hiding in a crevice.

For some reason the painted top shells here are paler than on those on our other local beaches and some are almost white. Another feature of this beach is the high population of sea cucumbers. We spot both the sea gherkin and the brown sea cucumber, but they are closed up today, hiding their frilly tentacles.

A pale and beautifully marked painted top shell.
Brown sea cucumber (centre) mostly hidden in a crevice, surrounded by sponges and other encrusting animals.

Just before we move out of this isolated gully, Junior shouts in delight. He has taken his best ever photo of a blue-rayed limpet. All the practice and patience has paid off.

Junior’s best blue-rayed limpet photo.
He’s also captured me at work in my natural habitat!

As the tide turns we take a quick look for stalked jellyfish. At this time of year, the seaweed is dying back making it easier to spot them, but the rushing currents from the stormy sea and the large amount of sediment that has been stirred up by the waves aren’t aiding our search. There are probably scores of stalked jellies here as the location is perfect for them, but we only see half a dozen. Among them are three different species: Calvadosia cruxmenlitensis, Haliclystus octoradiatus and a rather sorry-looking closed up specimen of Calvadosia campanulata.

This Calvadosia campanulata stalked jellyfish has (hopefully) seen better days!
The only Haliclystus octoradiatus stalked jellyfish we find is being thrown around in the current, but the white blobs of its primary tentacles can be clearly seen in this photo.
Most of the stalked jellyfish we see today are the ‘Maltese cross’ stalked jelly – Calvadosia cruxmelitensis.
Calvadosia cruxmelitensis stalked jelly with lots of white spots – these spots are clusters of the stinging cells (nematocysts).

Junior spends a happy half hour watching the cracking cliffs of sand that have formed around the edges of the rain-swollen stream, until the incoming tide begins to send waves up the river, flooding the sand around us and forcing us back.

The first spots of drizzle spatter down and will soon be followed by yet more heavy rain. There’s nothing we can do to prevent the arrival of even shorter days or colder weather, but whenever we need to find colour and inspiration during the dark winter, we will know where to find it.

Berthella plumula sea slug
A breadcrumb sponge with microalgae growing inside the green parts.
Star ascidian
A tortoiseshell limpet surrounded by pink encrusting seaweed.

Happy rock pooling!

Huge thanks to everyone who has shared their finds and photos with me. I love hearing about your rock pooling adventures through my contact page.

An Outbreak of Starfish – Wildlife Watch Explores Readymoney Cove

Before I’ve found the time to upload all of last year’s records, the rock pooling event season is upon me again. Junior comes along to help at my first Wildlife Watch event of the year for Cornwall Wildlife Trust at Readymoney Cove, undeterred by the bone-chilling wind.

A crowd of hardy young rock poolers, kitted out from head to toe in weatherproof gear, is gathered at the top of the beach and I am joined by Liz, a lovely volunteer assistant. Half the group have their hands up before I’ve even asked a question and these keen kids are practically bursting with stories and facts about crabs, blennies, pipefish and killer jellyfish. They also have high expectations of what we might find – seahorses and cuttlefish are among the requests – but most of all they want to see starfish.

Starfish of some sort are almost guaranteed on all our local beaches, especially cushion stars, which like to hide under rocks and overhangs. If we are lucky we might also find brittle stars, that walk on their five feathery arms, or even a gargantuan spiny starfish, so I am hopeful that we will be successful on our mission.

As the group spreads across the shore, the finds soon rush in. We turn shiny top shells in our fingers, hold chunky-clawed Xantho hydrophilus crabs, and to the immense joy of one young seahorse enthusiast, we find the next best thing to a seahorse: a male worm pipefish with eggs on his belly.

Xantho hydrophilus - the 'furrowed crab'.
Xantho hydrophilus – the ‘furrowed crab’.

Male worm pipefish with eggs
Male worm pipefish with eggs

Pipefish are close relatives of the seahorse and the male takes care of the female’s eggs, storing them in a special groove on his belly until they hatch. Coincidentally this pipefish has taken up residence next to an old pipe.

It only takes a minute for the children to discover a common starfish. I often find one or two on this beach, even though they’re not so common intertidally as offshore. The deep-water harbour alongside this beach is probably packed with them and sometimes young common starfish make their way into these sheltered pools. Today, however, there is something unusual going on.

One of the common starfish found - photo courtesy of Liz Barker
One of the common starfish found – photo courtesy of Liz Barker

Under the first stone I turn, I see two baby common starfish. As I look I notice a third, a fourth and then a fifth. On the side of the rock, there is yet another starfish. The adjacent rock has four more.

Common starfish at Readymoney Cove near Fowey
Common starfish at Readymoney Cove near Fowey

Everywhere on the beach, children are shrieking with excitement as they find more starfish. There are scores of them among the rocks I look at.

We could easily collect the starfish by the bucket-load, but these children know not to disturb the animals. We keep just a few for our trays so that we can watch them and all those who want to can have a go at holding a starfish before they are returned to their rocky homes.

While the children are caught up in the magic of starfish, I take a moment to explore the rocks at the sea’s edge and discover this wonderful yellow clubbed sea slug, Limacia clavigera.

Limacia clavigera - the yellow-clubbed sea slug
Limacia clavigera – the yellow-clubbed sea slug

There is never enough time to take many photos at these events as I am too caught up in the excitement of identifying finds and helping the children learn more about them. We also have plenty of discussions about the animals’ impressive defences and quirky eating habits.

The children do a perfect job of looking after the animals, returning them all safe and unharmed to their homes before the incoming tide floods back into the pools. Despite the chilly conditions, the kids are buzzing with happiness at finding so many starfish. A friend tells me her kids talked of nothing else all the way home.

Even Junior, who has seen most things before, is delighted with today’s finds and even more delighted when he secures the very last cheese and onion pasty from the beach shop for his lunch.

If you’d like to get involved with Wildlife Watch, book on to my rockpooling sessions or join any other Wildlife Watch events, check out the listings on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust pages.

Did you know that starfish can regrow their limbs? Find out more about the secrets of these iconic rock pool animals in my book Rock Pool: Extraordinary Encounters Between the Tides out on 2nd May with September Publishing and available through local and national bookshops and online.

Sharing the Love of Rockpooling

This week I’m planning rockpooling events for next year and adding identification pages to my website….

Yesterday it was so foggy you couldn’t see the sea in front of your wellies. Before that it was raining; before that it was blowing a gale and on the one day the sun came out I was nowhere near the beach. It’s not bad for eggcase hunts – which Cornish Rock Pools junior loves – but that’s about it.

This time of year, when the short days and inclement weather make even die-hard rockpoolers like me reach for the duvet, I turn to flicking through the 2017 tide table and dreaming of sunny days and gleaming expanses of shore.

Is it too early for New Year’s resolutions? Mine is to spend (even) more time sharing my love of rockpooling with others. I’ve put all the Looe Marine Conservation Group rockpooling events in my diary and I’m also hoping to volunteer with the utterly fabulous Fox Club (the junior branch of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust), helping to run events around the county. Then there will be other events for the local scouts and home educating groups to fit in, and who knows what else. Continue reading Sharing the Love of Rockpooling

A very British beach picnic.

It’s bank holiday Monday and, by rights, the beaches should be packed with tourists, but this is a British bank holiday complete with the standard issue of drizzle and greyness. We seem to be the only people who’ve come for a picnic today.

A very un-summery bank holiday at Plaidy beach near Looe
A very un-summery bank holiday at Plaidy beach near Looe

Cornish Rock Pools junior and his Dad undertake mega-engineering projects on the stream while I explore the rock pools, eager to put my new camera through its paces.

Pleased to meet you! A broad-clawed porcelain crab extends a claw. Cornish Rock Pools
Pleased to meet you! A broad-clawed porcelain crab extends a claw.

It seems that the wildlife has also gone to ground, as though the animals have moved further out to sea during the heavy rains. The regulars are still here though, lurking in the murky water.

Green shore crabs abound among the rocks.
Green shore crabs abound among the rocks.

Under almost every rock there are young edible crabs shunting sand over themselves while larger green shore crabs run for cover.

Netted dog whelk egg capsules
Netted dog whelk egg capsules

In a pool that threatens to over-top my wellies, I find a pheasant shell going about its business. I can barely see it in the silty water as it makes its way along the red seaweed. Under the camera, its neat maroon stripes become more visible and I can see its tentacles flopping over the edge of the weed.

A pheasant shell undeterred by the silty water
A pheasant shell undeterred by the silty water

A grey heron is fishing in the farthest pools. As the waves begin to slosh up the gulley, a cormorant flies in and takes up position behind the heron, where it stays for the next half hour. I hunt the mid-shore for the ever illusive starfish, Asterina phylactica.

The first Asterina phylactica starfish I find is especially tiny.
The first Asterina phylactica starfish I find is especially tiny.

The first of these minute starfish I find is so small that I can barely see it among the weed. It moves remarkably quickly, sliding round the branching tuft of pink coralline seaweed and disappearing from view each time I try to focus on it.

Other half sidles over and asks about the sandwiches. I realise I’ve been staring into this pool for way too long and somehow I’ve managed to soak my fringe and my coat sleeves in my enthusiasm, but I’m not quite ready to give up. Eventually I’m rewarded by finding a larger, brighter specimen, which I photograph with numb fingers.

A slightly larger, more brightly coloured Asterina phylactica starfish.
A slightly larger, more brightly coloured Asterina phylactica starfish.

 

Asterina phylactica starfish - well worth the time spent searching.
Asterina phylactica starfish – well worth the time spent searching.

The drizzle sets in properly as we begin our picnic. Cornish Rock Pools junior builds a shelter under his Dad’s coat and happily munches on sandwiches and biscuits. I flex my fingers and am just beginning to sense the return of some sort of blood flow when I remember the bucket. I definitely had it and now I don’t. Other half and I mount a search party, but he heroically sends me back to the chocolate digestives while he continues the hunt.

Cornish Rock Pools junior makes his picnic shelter.
Cornish Rock Pools junior makes his picnic shelter.

After several long minutes of searching, the tide and mist closing around him, he lifts the bucket aloft and junior and I clap and cheer with our mouths full.

Red bucket is saved!
Red bucket is saved!

Soon the cliffs are disappearing in the fog and the rain sets in properly. As the oystercatchers sweep in, we hastily pack up our very British picnic and leave the beach completely deserted.

A snakelocks anemone among the sea lettuce.
A snakelocks anemone among the sea lettuce.

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.

 

Rockpooling With Mum

My mum will be seventy this year, but she cuts a sprightly figure as she steps across the rocks at Castle Beach. In a rare, precious moment we have time together, surrounded by glittering pools and a wide open bay.

Mum exploring Cornish rock pools.
Rockpooling with Mum, Castle Beach, Cornwall.

These are the moments we hoped for not so many years ago when Mum was lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a blood transfusion to give her the strength to make it through her cancer operation. Continue reading Rockpooling With Mum

Where have all the Common starfish gone?

Sometimes it’s what you don’t see.

Common starfish
Common starfish

It’s been a great summer for finding starfish. All season I’ve been taking snaps of giant spiny starfish and watching brittle stars walk across the sea bed. I’ve placed cushion stars into eager palms, enjoying the giggles as children feel tickly tentacle-feet for the first time. Continue reading Where have all the Common starfish gone?