Marine minutiae

A friend and I took a walk along the seashore.  At first we looked beautiful scenery, the rocks and rippling waves, the swirl of clouds in the sky.

Sea and sky and rocks

Then we looked down, and found a world of life, tiny and vibrant, hidden amongst the scenery.

It started with a crab, no bigger than my thumbnail:

Itty-bitty crabbie

I saw him run across a rock, and we picked him up to marvel at his tiny eyes, the curling antennae, the olive-black carapace both smooth and bumpy at the same time.

There were more crabs on the rocks, glistening in the late afternoon sun, trying to blend their greens and blues to the golden rocks, and running sideways for safety when they felt they had been spotted.

Big claws, and muscled legs

There was other life on the rocks, also practicing camouflage, but unlike the crabs unable to flee, so protected by their hard shells.

Shells and prehistoric snake-limpet thingees

I don’t know what the prehistoric looking armoured thingees with little snakes wrapped around their edges are.  Oddly enough googling “rehistoric looking armoured thingees with little snakes wrapped around their edges” doesn’t bring up anything useful.  I do like that the first result references Terry Pratchett though.  I realised I left off the ‘P’ by accident, but if you google it with the ‘p’ your results aren’t any better (though I am intrigued by the page that offers “Fun things to do near Uckfied”).

What are you, oh armoured snake thingee?

This is a limpet. That one I do know.

After inspecting all the life on the rocks we began to wonder what lived in the water.  I took off my shoes and socks and waded into the shallows.

The water was full of seaweed and algae, and tiny little barnacles, but with a closer look you also noticed the dozens of shells, all hiding some snail creature that slowly crawled up and over the rocks, living out its little shell-creature life.

Little crawling sea shells

Little sea snails in a pretty shells - look at the one climbing up the rock toward me

Two sea snails, antennae alert, traverse a rock

We crouched together, my friend and I, immersed in the world of the sea snails, watching them traverse the seafloor, their persistence dislodging pebbles twice their size as they pursued the path they had set.

Our reflections above the sea world

We thought about the sea snails, and their awareness.  Did they sense us there, our feet causing ripples in the water, our bodies casting shadows, and occasional click as the camera snapped a shot?  What if we had picked one up, tried to get it to crawl across our hand?  What would a sea snail, in its sea snail consciousness, have made of us?  How much could it comprehend the road passing by, just metres from the beach, the cafe and the apartments across the road?

Sea snails living where air and water meet with each swell of tide

Are we, in our own way, just sea snails?  Trying to understand a universe that is as foreign and incomprehensible to us as the road and cafe is to the denizens of the shallows?  Trying our best to explain, with science and religion, but really no more able to express what is really going on than the snail can express the concept of the espressos they serve in the cafe?

Speaking of things that try to grasp their reality, I wonder what the crab who bumped into my foot on his travels thought of it.

Little crab at the edge of the foot

I was crouched in the shallows, watching the shells, when I felt a tickling on my heel.  I joked to my friend that the water was so crawling with life that some of it was crawling on me, and then I felt the tickling again, and realised it was true.  We looked down and saw the little creature making his way around the curve of my foot, trying to hide under the arch.

To my great credit, I did not squeal and scream and jump out of the water and shake my foot off.  Instead I snapped the photo above, and then gently moved my foot to let the crab go on his way.

Crab sans foot

In addition to crabs in their usual crab-carapaces, and the shells with their natural inhabitants, we watched long enough to espy a hermit crab, his shell moving across the ocean floor at a most un-snail like pace.

The hermit peers out from his borrowed home

What does the hermit crab think of the previous owner of his house?  Does he appreciate the wonder of a creature that makes and carries its own home on its back?

I do.


  1. trepto says

    I think the prehistoric looking armoured thingees with little snakes wrapped around their edges are chitons! I’d never heard of them before; thanks for the excuse to learn something new. 🙂


  2. The armoured snake thingees are also called Polyplacophora (literally ‘bug-snails’) and you are right, they ARE pretty prehistoric (and a rare sight on our beaches these days; you were really lucky to spot some). There are only very few specimen left compared to, for example, mussels (Bivalvia). I like them just *because* they look so ancient and strange :o)
    Great photos of sea life, by the way! 🙂

    • Oh thank you! I’ve actually read up on chiton/polyplacophoras now. They must not be rare in NZ, because I see them all the time. I can’t recall ever seeing them in Hawaii or California though.

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