5 creatures lurking in the rockpools of Dorset
- Credit: Archant
Julie Hatcher, Dorset Wildlife Trust Marine Awareness Officer, reveals some of the extraordinary summer residents lurking in your local rockpool
A pair of red eyes peer from beneath a shrubby seaweed covered ledge in a rockpool. The water left by the retreating tide is still and crystal clear, but there are plenty of dark crevices and overhangs for small animals to hide in safety, concealed from the prying eyes of predators and curious people.
Life in a rockpool can be precarious. A boulder overturned and not carefully replaced can mean death for delicate animals. An oystercatcher’s long, orange beak or a child’s brightly coloured fishing net can easily take a creature by surprise and thrust them into the bright sun of the open air.
To us, rockpools are places of mystery and its residents secretive and strange. What better way to spend a few hours on a calm, sunny day this summer, than sitting by a seashore pool and watching the comings and goings, the squabbles and antics of animals such as crabs, blennies and prawns.
5 rockpool residents
The Aggressive Dandy: Velvet Swimming Crab
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The belligerent velvet swimming crab looks like a Victorian dandy dressed in purple striped trousers and a velvet jacket. The red eyes, however, offer a warning as to its true character - this is a crab not to be messed with. With spiky armour on its claws and an aggressive nature, it is best to keep fingers and toes out of its way.
Rockpool Grazers: Flat Periwinkle
Ranging in colour from sunshine yellow, through burnt orange to chocolate brown the flat shelled periwinkles are easy to spot amongst the sea wrack fronds they graze on. The yellow shells are particularly easy to spot, looking like discarded sweetcorn kernels, while the brown shells blend in perfectly with the seaweeds’ air bladders.
Sex Changing Carnivore: Cushion Star
Hidden beneath rocks in seashore pools, the cushion star glides along on its myriad tiny tube-feet, as if sliding on ice. This small relative of starfish feeds by inverting part of its stomach through its mouth to digest dead and decaying animals and seaweed. Small individuals are males but change into females when they reach a size of about 2cm.
Nosy Neighbours: Common Blennies
Common blennies (or shannies), are the nosy neighbours of the rockpool. These bold little fish are keen to investigate what’s going on and always on the look-out for a likely meal. Dabbling fingers at the water’s surface are sometimes enough to tempt them out of hiding, but you may wonder who is watching whom!
Transparent Cleaners: Prawns
These tiny transparent scavengers use their long antennae to detect food, while their tweezer-like pincers pick parasites and dead material from other animals, giving them a welcome clean-up. Prawns will even give you a manicure if you place your hand gently on the bottom of the rockpool and keep very still.
Follow the seashore code
1. Always return rocks and seaweed carefully to how you found them
2. Leave limpets, anemones and seaweed attached
3. Put animals back where you found them
4. Take your litter home
5. Check tide times to prevent being cut off when the tide turns
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