In my last nature table post I gave you the tricky task of identifying a strange insect, one person did have a go but unfortunately was not correct – the black insect was in fact a Sawfly – a Birch Sawfly to be exact; these flying insects are closely related to bees and wasps yet differ in their larvae (which closely resemble caterpillars) and in that they lack a thin waist.
Today is the last nature table as I have mostly exhausted my collection, over the years I have gathered from various locations objects that I have found on the coast; beach-combing is a passion of mine that is hours of fun (honest). Below is a prize possession that I wanted for a long time before I found one; the shell of a Goose Barnacle, I found these remarkable-looking creatures many times but they were all still alive and clinging to flotsam. I eventually found some dead ones washed up on a welsh beach; the shell contains the majority of the animal (except the stalk) and is made up of five separate segments each ivory-white and strangely contoured – when alive the frond-like arms of the animal reach out to gather food material from the water.
The assortment below contains two egg cases and two unmistakable starfish – I waited a long time to find the starfish which dry into these stiff, bristly husks forever in their death positions. The top egg case is from a ray and the lower yellow one is from a dog-fish; both species are a type of shark and commonly found around the British coasts.
Below is a small sample of all the shells I own, each and every one found on a beach in England or Spain, each is beautiful in colour, pattern, texture and form. All apart from the middle-right one are bivalve shells (meaning they are one of two that protect the mollusc), they hinge in one corner – both their strength and weakness as the muscle that controls it is very strong, yet is targeted by predatory birds. The middle-left shell with the holes in it is an Ormer; the holes are respiratory holes, some tropical species grow very large and sport opalescent nacre covering on the inside of the shell which makes them valuable.
The next photo shows the claws and carapace of the Edible crab; not all from the same individual or location but you can see clearly the nice ‘pie-crust’ edge that distinguishes the species – these are the ones you get in shops and you can see by the size of the claws why they are popular eating – as well as formidable adversaries. The strange pale leaf-like thing at the bottom is the skeletal remains of a most odd-looking creature; the ‘By-the-wind-sailor’, which is something like a jellyfish and something like an anemone, they float on the surface of the sea using a rigid sail-like structure to catch the wind and dangling blue tentacles beneath them to catch food.
So far all the objects have been fairly small, but I do own several larger curios including these two in the picture below. The top one is a gigantic sea-snail shell as big as my head, I was given it as a present and I do not know where it comes from or what species it is but I love the delicate marshmallow-pink interior which is smoother than marble. The other item is something I collected in southern Spain last year, it took some doing to get it back to Blighty in one piece but I think it was worth it. It is the internal calcified ‘bone’ of a cuttlefish (actually its shell) which the animal uses to aid buoyancy, they are unique to cuttlefish and this individual must have been a whopper as it is as long as my fore-arm!
Finally, what would have been the mystery objects if this wasn’t the last one, are two very hole-y objects, the first is obviously a stone which has been bored into by marine worms who have very powerful, strong teeth. The second had me stumped for a while due to the fact that it was so disfigured by holes, eventually I noticed the remains of a hinge in one corner that gave it away as a bivalve shell – turned into a honeycomb by tunneling, industrious worms – it is also full of seemingly endless sand that keeps coming out despite me having shaken it vigorously.