East Lothian Countryside News June

East Lothian is rightly renowned for the natural beauty of its coastline. Let’s face it we’ve got the lot – from sweeping sandy beaches to rugged cliffs, from majestic ruined castles to some top class chip shops and ice cream parlours.  This month is a good time to get out onto the coast and explore the variety of wildlife to be found in the rocky shoreline.

Rockpools are a difficult place to live. The plants and animals found there have to able to withstand the rigours of the tide going in and out. Not only does this threaten to leave creatures high and dry, but on warm days the temperature in rockpools can rise dramatically. Furthermore, there can be a fair amount of evaporation from pools, which leads to the remaining water becoming rather salty. Despite this, there are a number of plant and animal species which have evolved to survive these conditions and they’re definitely worth looking for. There’s a little bit of everything in there – there are plants, grazing herbivores, filter feeders, scavengers and voracious predators – a whole miniature ecosystem in fact.

Periwinkle and Dog whelk

dog_whelk

Dog whelks are one of many species of mollusc found on the shore. They’re often found alongside common periwinkles and other sea snails, but can usually be distinguished by their longer, pointier and lighter coloured shell – periwinkles by comparison, are more rounded and darker. Dog whelks don’t look particularly scary, but they are fearsome hunters of barnacles and mussels (admittedly not the most difficult prey to chase down). They are equipped with a radula – rather like a tongue fitted with hard teeth – with which they can bore a small hole through the shell of their prey. The dog whelk can then squirt the prey with paralysing chemicals and digestive enzymes, which turn the poor beastie into a soupy mess that is then sucked up. It all sounds pretty grim, but the mussels at least are not totally defenceless. They produce strong, sticky threads which they use to stick themselves to rocks. They can also use these threads to tether approaching dog whelks, effectively immobilising them. Unable to escape, the dog whelk will then starve to death whilst surrounded by its favourite food. Isn’t nature wonderful?

Beadlet anemone

bead_anemone

Look on any of our rocky shores and you’re likely to see what seem to be large blobs of red jelly. These are beadlet anemones and if you catch one unawares underwater you’ll see them in their full glory. In this state, the anemone will have its tentacles extended and will bear a (very) vague resemblance to a flower, which is how they get their name. Despite the attractive appearance, the tentacles are actually packed with stinging cells which harpoon and paralyse any passing prey – this is then pulled into the anemone’s mouth, located in the centre of the tentacles. Beadlet anemones appear to be stuck fast to rocks, but they are capable of some movement. This can lead to territorial battles in which two anemones will attempt to nudge and sting each other. This can take a couple of days before one or other will get the message and move away. OK, so it’s not exactly a steel cage death match, but for slow moving blobs of jelly this is pretty vicious stuff.

EL_Countryside_Ranger_ServiceEast Lothian Countryside Ranger Service

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