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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.DSCF3273

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