Posted by: Ross Gardner | June 13, 2021

Down by the Sea

A steaming hot Saturday. The hordes, having disgorged themselves in a swarm onto the seafront beach earlier in the day, have mostly departed, save the few that have stayed into the evening, tingeing the air with the smell of drifting barbecue smoke. The sea has departed too, receding far out to its low-tide mark. Apart from the gulls scattered across the expanse of mud left by the falling tide, there is little for the naturalist to find on this emptying beach that just a few hours ago bustled with people. Or is there?

The twist at the end of the opening paragraph was, I am sure, not very much of a surprise, or else why would I be bothering to write about it. Of course there are things to be found. The upper shore is in places covered with edible periwinkle, a few of their still sliding slowly over the wet mud. There are oysters, their pair of shells locked firmly shut, in a joining reminiscent of ‘smiling’ humpback whale. And of course, everywhere there are to be seen the little, coiled heaps of mud left by burrowing lugworms.

But, these aside, there is still the unexpected. On a stone my eye catches the oval shape of a chiton. These are marine molluscs with a trick borrowed from the Crustacea (or should that be the other way round?). The ‘shell’ is in fact eight overlapping plates that allow the animal to curl up in a protective, woodlouse-like ball if ever dislodged and swept away by a wave. It is this that earns them the alternative name of coat-of-mail shells.

A chiton – probably Lepidochitona cinereus

This is a sheltered, muddy shore, with nothing by way of rocks and their pools, yet I still discover sea anemones, animals we may be far less inclined to associate with sand and mud. It is one Sagartia troglodytes, a species that, rather than adhering to solid stone, is content to feed partially buried in the mud or sand. I watch this little creature fascinated, as it slowly ripples its mass of tentacles, filtering out foodstuffs in barely a centimetre of water.

The evening edges into dusk and I leave the beach a little quieter than I found it.

Sagartia troglodytes

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