3 ISSUES FOR JUST £3 Subscribe to Sussex Life today click here

This is what happens in the rockpools of Sussex

PUBLISHED: 10:23 07 July 2017

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto

© Jocelyn Lin

Rockpools are a vital part of the summer holidays. And that’s before you know what’s really going on in them. Jules Howard explains

Imagine a world consumed each day in a washing machine of tidal violence, where daily battles are fought over scraps of food and shelter. Where shells, suckers and tentacles outnumber backbones. Such a place exists today. It is called a rockpool. And it is a writhing hotbed of weirdness: a place where new creatures are swapped about with mind-bending irregularity.

Here, boneless animals such as the bootlace worm grow metres in length or, like the velvet swimming crab, come armed with fierce red eyes, razor sharp pincers and an attitude to match. Here, crabs decorate their shells with seaweed providing an amazing hairdo of camouflage, and some of the animals, like the snakelocks anemone, photosynthesise. Here, sea slugs steal poisonous cells from other creatures and wear them on their back like armour. This is their world, not ours. And it is an interesting place indeed.

Thrown into their twice-daily tidal maelstrom, rockpool dwellers must make the most of every opportunity they get. Their sex lives reflect that. Many, like the sea slugs, are hermaphrodites, able to put every encounter with a fellow of the same species to good use. Then there are the slipper limpets, an alien invader that pumps out special chemicals to attract passers-by, forming a literal ‘sex train’ of up to 25 individuals.

Shelled creatures occupy pride of place in most rockpools. There are shelled worms (bristleworms), shelled tiny crustaceans (barnacles, who kick food into their mouths with their legs) and shelled larger crustaceans, such as the hermit crabs, locked in a ceaseless quest for ever more suitable housing.

In most habitats on Earth, a shell is a guarantee of safety. But in a rockpool no shell is safe from the drilling mouthparts of the dog whelk (a monstrous kind of rock snail), or the pneumatic crowbarring of a starfish’s inside-out stomach.

These are deliciously nightmarish creatures, easily observable to anyone with a little bit of patience or a dab of luck.

There are some vertebrates, of course. You might spot the shadows of darting gobies or blennies, or a pipefish lying amongst the weed. But most will move on in the next tide, to other rockpools, or rocky reefs in deeper water.

It’s not only on the rocky shore that this horror show is played out. Sandy beaches hide similar dramas: cuttlefish bones, necklace shells that, like the dog whelk, drill into their prey, and the dried egg cases of sharks and rays.

For me, a trip to the beach is always exciting: the intriguing and fascinating cast of rockpools, and the delightful surprise of the strandline.

And every tide brings new players and new finds.

Wherever you live there is a Wildlife Trust that covers your area. You can support their work by joining your local Wildlife Trust today. Visit www.wildlifetrusts.org to choose the Trust you would like to join.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Sussex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Sussex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Sussex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

10:06

10 of the most beautiful, inspiring and simply stunning photos of Sussex shared on Instagram over the past week...

Read more
Yesterday, 16:01

Head to these South Downs villages for a chance to experience modern amenities and stunning, picturesque views

Read more
Tue, 15:45

A selection of fantastic bird-life centres to visit right across Sussex

Read more
Tue, 10:13

Take a day-trip to one of these gorgeous downland villages, urges Hazel Sillver. They offer great walks, country pubs and wonderful views.

Read more
Tue, 10:07

Enjoy wide green space and sea air on this downland coastal circular

Read more
Friday, August 3, 2018

There are some fantastic restaurants and cafés in Eastbourne serving up delectable food and catering for all tastes. We round up some of the best…

Read more
Friday, August 3, 2018

Contraband goods provided a valuable source of income for Rottingdean in years past, and a number of illustrious figures have made it their home since then as Clive Agran discovers

Read more
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

We round up some of the best events and things to do across Sussex this month

Read more
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Come on in, the water’s fine. In the hope of a baking hot summer, Hazel Sillver presents a guide to outdoor swimming across Sussex

Read more
Tuesday, July 31, 2018

With the South Downs, quaint villages and coastal trails, Sussex is a great place for a walk. Here we round up some of the best

Read more
Wednesday, July 25, 2018

You don't have to be on a holiday abroad to enjoy a relaxed afternoon by the pool! Here are 5 of the best outdoor pools to visit this summer in Sussex

Read more
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

The market own of Horsham is home to some delightful restaurants and pubs. We round up some of the best

Read more
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Is The Curlew’s new team bringing it back to its former glories? We went to find out

Read more
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Drink in one of the most iconic views in the world on this coastal stroll

Read more
 
Great British Holidays advert link

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy


Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook


Local Business Directory

Sussex's trusted business finder

Job search in your local area



Property Search