Marine wildlife to look for in February
Lumpsucker, Cyclopterus lumpus
February to May is the time of year when an unusual-looking fish, the lumpsucker, comes into very shallow water to breed. Females lay their eggs in large clusters and the male fish stay and guard them for the 6 weeks or so that they take to develop and hatch. This can put the male in danger as eggs are a tasty meal for predators with the added jeopardy of being swept away by strong waves and even being left high and dry out of water on an extremely low spring tide. Despite these threats, male lumpsuckers will not abandon their post and can sometimes be found washed up dead on the beach following storms, or gasping for breath on the low shore at low tide. Clusters of their pale eggs can also be found washed ashore, often moulded to the shape of the bedrock to which they were attached.
Stalked jellyfish, Stauromedusae
While many creatures abandon the shallows for deeper water in the winter and spring, stalked jellyfish often thrive at this time of year and can be found decorating seaweed in rockpools. These delicate-looking animals attach by a stalk to their algal anchor and hang on through the roughest conditions, swaying to and fro in the swell. They are related to other animals that use stinging cells to catch their prey, including jellyfish, sea anemones and corals; collectively called Cnidaria. There are several varieties of stalked jellyfish to be found on seaweed fronds just beneath the surface and they may be spotted by their tiny star shape as they hold out the stinging arms arranged around their umbrella body.
Dog whelk, Nucella lapillus
At this time of year, dog whelks, a common seashore snail, sometimes congregate in crevices and beneath seashore boulders, probably to avoid being swept away by waves as they are known to have difficulty reattaching in low temperatures. These aggregations contain both adults and juveniles but the juveniles will disperse in the spring leaving just the adults to breed and spawn, laying clusters of golden flasks tucked away in the shelter of rocks. Some individuals can remain in these aggregations for over 4 months, feeding very little during this time. Dog whelks can live for up to 10 years and tend to remain in a very small area providing there is sufficient food such as barnacles, mussels and limpets.
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