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Beaches are beautiful places, that usually goes without saying, but when you sit on the beach, you aren’t alone, even if you see no other being in sight!
The beach is teeming with interstitial microorganisms, little microscopic creatures that call home the space found between sand particles. But you don’t need a microscope to see other inhabitants that often go unnoticed for there are many just below your feet and the waves!
This little fellow below is called the Sea Pansy, although to me it looks like just one petal from a pansy or more like a leaf. Hard to believe, but it’s related to corals and anemones with its closest relative being the sea pen. Like coral, it is a colony, a whole colony, of polyps. These creatures are bag-shaped generally with one end open and the other attached to a surface [think of an anemone, a single bag-shaped polyp attached to the surface at one end and open with tentacles at the other].
The Sea Pansy, being a whole community working together as one, has a number of different polyps doing different jobs. The ‘stem’ or what anchors the Pansy down is actually one long polyp. Within the body are a bunch of little polyps with some that do resemble their larger cousin the anemone in shape, with tentacles that protrude from the face of the Pansy and filter particles of food. Unlike the garden variety, this Pansy doesn’t sit upright, but lies flat on the sand.
The *coolest* part is that these seemingly lifeless blobs of goo are bioluminescent! If you can find it at night, poke it! It will light up [kind of like a lightning bug]!! Look for these guys in the swash.
Another neat creature is the Commensal Crab. These small crabs, usually less than an inch or two, live commensally with other creatures. One well known crab is the Oyster Pea Crab; the smallest in this area is the Sand Dollar Crab. The names of these two indicate where these guys prefer to live. There are also species that like to live with scallops, tube worms, etc. and all appear quite similar, so apologies for not knowing who this fellow is below! I think he’d rather not be on that shell anyway…gives you reason to pause before stepping on or driving over shells!
These are carapaces, the shell on the back of a crab. I would have liked to find the whole crab alive, but these fellows live offshore and are dubbed the swimming crabs because of their paddle-shaped back legs and their method of motion.
The one above is the Ocellated Lady Crab and the one below, as distinct as it is, I can’t find the name for, do you know???
I’m thinking some kind of box crab…
This neat thing is a Moon Snail sand collar, or an egg case. There are little tiny eggs sandwiched between sand particles. When wet, the thing is gooey and flexible; when dry, it crumbles like dry sand.
Hope you enjoyed reading that as much as I enjoyed researching it! Thank you for visiting!
Sources and Recommended Reading:
Ruppert, Edward E., and Richard S. Fox. Seashore Animals of the Southeast: a Guide to Common Shallow-water Invertebrates of the Southeastern Atlantic Coast. Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina, 1988. Print.
Hayes, Miles O., and Jacqueline Michel. A Coast for All Seasons: a Naturalist’s Guide to the Coast of South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: Pandion, 2008. Print.