Thursday, February 07, 2013


It may be a mistake to think of a given beach as "the beach", at least as far as its small residents are concerned. They don't live there, in the way we live in the Lower Fraser Valley, but are free to travel or move house to any part of the world, with little inconvenience. (Always excepting Antarctica or the sea bottom, of course.) The intertidal critters live in small communities, sometimes never leaving their underside of a rock, or the line where stones give way to mud, for example.

Barnacles and periwinkles, and probably a crab or two.

Mud snails are relatively mobile. We have watched them as the tide retreats, just above the water line, hurrying down in pursuit of the disappearing shelter of the waves. They're not fast enough, and after a futile chase of a few minutes, they bury themselves in the sand to wait for conditions to improve. I sometimes follow their trails from exit hole to new retreat; they manage to cover about 10 of my paces, but rarely in a straight line, so they're not too far from home when they stop.

Hermit crabs scuttle about, sometimes covering quite a distance, compared to their size. And I have seen them, caught in the current, rolling, rolling, out with the tide, until they find some strand of eelgrass to grab onto before they get nabbed by a passing fish.

The other day, walking on the bare sand, I picked up every snail shell I saw, and examined it. Every one, every single one, without exception, held a hermit crab. If a hermit borrows the shell from a snail that died and was eaten, then the hermits and snails should be found in the same general location, I reasoned. But I saw no snails where there were hermits.

Maybe the snails had dug themselves into the sand when the tide went out. So when I picked up a hermit in a snail shell, I dug in that area, scooping out the sand and water wrist deep. Each time, I found clams, clams, clams, clams. No snails. Not one.

So the hermits, at least, have travelled some distance from their supply of homes.

All this is well and good; a barnacle or a mussel on a rock is basically set for life; a starfish in a crevice at the mid-tidal zone will still be there next week or month, a snail circles around the bits of beach that feel comfortable.

Double holdfast

But what of the poor critters that settle down in a perfect spot, sheltered, climate-controlled, well supplied with food and company, only to find their home uprooted and tossed on some inhospitable shore, exposed to air and light and flies? What of the subtidal residents of bull kelp holdfasts, or the eelgrass root dwellers?

Ma Nature is so unfair!

1 comment:

  1. Indeed. And then there's the animals on rocks that must be on the top or bottom of said rock (or they will die), and someone flips that puppy over, looking for seastars, etc., and if that person doesn't flip the rock back over, it's a sad thing. Makes me very grateful for my feet.


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