Friday, October 24, 2008

Critters of the sand

It was the last sunny day this week, the weather people said. (They were wrong, but that's beside the point.) So even though we were not free until late in the afternoon, we headed to the beach. And found the tide at its highest point. There was no beach, to speak of; a strip of piled drying eelgrass, above that, the sandy path in front of the houses.

Walking on the eelgrass is difficult, and the flies were bothersome. We dawdled along the path. Laurie took another dozen photos of Mount Baker, and I sat on a log to wait for him. Something moved in the sand, and I chased it down and bagged it. A beetle or fly of some sort. And I caught a beachhopper to keep it company, collected a pill bottle of sand for housing.

We went on. Behind the next log, I almost stepped on a pair of big black spiders. They fled, and I chased them with the camera; here's the slowpoke of the pair:

A wolf spider, almost completely black.

After a while, we crossed the eelgrass again, and found that the tide was starting down; there was a smidgen of beach about a foot wide. Yay!

And just a few steps along that strip, Laurie came across one of those jellyfish that "Huckleberry" had written about.

Cyanea capillata, Lion's Mane jellyfish

Aren't the colours appetizing? Imagine that on toast!

We found quite a few of these at the high-tide line, mostly in deep reds and oranges shot with gold. A couple were paler. The one in the photo was one of the smaller jellies; the first one was at least 14 inches across, which is about as big as they get this far south.

As "Huckleberry" said, none had tentacles. Many were quite decayed, and had lost the central cap, so they looked like jelly doughnuts. Only in a couple could I see the 8 lobes.

For a list of interesting links, check out Huckleberry Days. And here's a YouTube video, which will lead you to several more; these animals are seriously beautiful in motion!

Supper time. It was a short walk. But at home, I had my captures to investigate.

The beachhopper turned out to be the smaller of the two common hoppers from our beaches, Orchestia traskiana:

Cute eyes.

I've spent quite a bit of time trying to get a photo of him without torturing him with plastic.

Head down in the wet sand.

But it is almost impossible. When I gently pry him loose from his hidey-hole, he comes with his own coat of sand. In that state, he lies still, pretending to be dead, but looking like a lump of sand. When I wash him off with a droplet or two of water, he leaps! to his many feet, flips over, and burrows into the sand. If I am very, very quick, I get him in the above position. A moment of hesitation, and he is almost invisible, except for the very top of his back. A minute later, there is no sign of his presence.

So, here he is, exposed and unhappy:

The tail rolls under; even walking on the flat, he keeps it in that position. But while he is burrowing, he shoves his head into the sand, then repeatedly flips the tail out straight, scooping the sand out from underneath and piling it on his back.

He has seven pairs of legs, three in back (I only see two) and four in front, plus assorted other appendages. And they all stick out at strange angles; check out those last legs in the full-size photo (click on it).

He is active at night; when I checked him at midnight, he was out wandering around. I brought him into the light, and within a minute, he was buried.

Next, the beetle. Which turned out to be a Rove beetle, about 1 cm. long, and as ornery as the beachhopper.

A long, skinny beetle with undersized elytra (wing covers). And I love those beaded antennae!

This is an extremely active beetle. Nothing slowed it down, neither dark nor light nor cold. Wet or dry, it keeps moving. I moved it to a container of very fine, dry sand for easier photo-taking, and the sand stuck to it; then it went into a frenzy, contorting itself every which way, brushing, twisting, combing, flipping, until no sand grain was left.

So no face shots.

About those wing covers: on most beetles, they reach the full length of the wing. The rove wears a little back-pack with the wings folded inside. I got a fuzzy photo of the wings extended all the way:

And this beastie likes the light; at midnight, it was nowhere to be seen. Under my desk lamp, it woke up and -- of course -- started to race around again.


  1. Great shots of the little critters. Also good job on getting the one of the rove beetle with its wings out. I found a rove beetle on International Rock Flipping Day, and thought it was a larva because it didn't have the normal beetle wing covers.

  2. Love the rove beetle, that is neat. You always find such interesting things to show us.


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