Category Archives: Wildlife

Portuguese Men o’ War

For about a month, Portuguese men o’ war (Physalia physalis) have been washing up on Cornish beaches. Now they have arrived at Newborough too. I spotted one at the start of the week. Today there were about a dozen dotted along the tide line.

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A Portuguese Man o’ War on Penrhos beach Newborough

I had never seen one of these in real life (or death) before, and I was surprised at how petite they are. The sails, or balloons, of the ones I’ve seen are only around 20cm long and 10cm tall at the most. Their colours are stunning.

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Portuguese Man o’ War complete with a little fish in its tentacles (and a pound coin to show its size)

Portuguese Men o’ War are related to the Borne by the Wind Sailors (Velella velella) that washed up earlier in the year.

Sadly, there have also been lots of dead seals washed ashore lately: mostly young pups, still coated in their pale baby fur. In south Wales it is being reported that as many as two-thirds of this year’s seal puppies have been killed by the storms. I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation is just as bad here:(

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Hooded crow – Corvus cornix

Although hooded crows are more usually associated with Ireland and Scotland, there are usually one or two around about Newborough, feeding in the fields at the edge of the forest. They seem to have paired up with regular carrion crows, so there are probably hybrids around too.

A hooded crow (Corvus cornix) with its carrion crow partner.

A hooded crow (Corvus cornix) with its carrion crow partner alongside Newborough Forest..

Burnet moth caterpillar cocoons

A couple of weeks ago, Newborough Warren was teeming with the green and black caterpillars of burnet moths.

Burnet moth caterpillars on trefoil flowers

Burnet moth caterpillars on trefoil flowers

The caterpillars have now grown fat and are starting to make their cocoons on plant stems throughout the warren.

Burnet moth cocoon on grass stem

Burnet moth cocoon on grass stem

The cocoons look just like they’re a part of the plant – like a golden coloured blister fused to the side of a stem. Over the next few weeks, the beautiful black and red moths will start to climb out of these cocoons and you’ll see them, along with the similarly coloured cinnabar moth, flying all over the warren.

Pond snails – Lymnaea stagnalis

Dotted throughout Newborough Forest are ponds and dune slacks. Amongst other things, these provide a habitat for the Great Pond Snail – Lymnaea stagnalis. These snails are widespread in England, but much less common in Wales, except for Anglesey which has plenty of them.

Great pond snails - Lymnaea stagnalis

Great pond snails – Lymnaea stagnalis

These snails can grow up to about 7cm long and they have a much more pointy shell than our regular land snails. They feed on plant matter and general detritus, and so help to keep ponds clean.

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When the snail dies (or is eaten out of its shell), the shells become much paler and more translucent.

When the snail dies (or is eaten out of its shell), the shells become much paler and more translucent.

Scientists use Lymnaea stagnalis in the study of neurology – apparently they have a very pretty and compact nervous system, ideal for research. They’ve even been used to make biological silicon chips. The snails are probably not proud of either of these achievements!

Scholarpedia has an interesting article on the use of the snails in science, and generally interesting and in depth stuff on how a snail works

Spiny spider crabs – Maja squinado

Spiny spider crab - Maja squinado on Llanddwyn beach

Spiny spider crab – Maja squinado on Llanddwyn beach

For some reason, there were quite a few of these large spider crabs washed up on the beach this morning. Most of them were slightly alive, but only slightly. It’s common to see shells of the crabs, but much less common to see so many live and intact crabs. However, the gulls were having a field day, so soon these big crabs will probably just be shells and scattered claws too :(

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Mermaid’s purses and other strandline treasures

Mermaid's purses are the egg cases of certain sharks and rays.

Mermaid’s purses are the egg cases of certain sharks and rays.

Yesterday was stormy all day with gale force winds driving the tide up the shore. This mermaid’s purse was still intact.  It  probably belongs to a nursehound (aka greater spotted dog fish) – which, confusingly, is a type of cat shark (Scyliorhinus stellaris). But this is one egg that won’t make it.

Whelk egg-cases

Whelk egg-cases

The pale, bobbly egg cases of the common edible whelk (Buccinum undatum) look more like some kind of seaweed than something animal.

Whelk and other shells

Whelk and other shells

Shells were the main thing washed up by the storm:

Clam shell

Clam shell

Thick trough shell with small cockle

Thick trough shell with small cockle

Along with all the whole, undamaged shells, were lots of chippings of nacre from oyster shells, making the whole bleach glint in the sunshine.

Oystershell nacre

Oystershell nacre

Jellyfish and jelly blobs…

One of the nicest things about the beach is that it changes all the time and every tide brings new things to see.

Last year, for the first time, I found a jelly blob. Clearly “jelly blob” is not the proper
term for it, but it does describe what it was like. A small (about 2cm across) blob of
clear jelly with jade coloured strands in it. I found out, via the Natural History Museum‘s
website, that it was actually an egg mass of the green leaf worm (Eulalia viridis). I have
kept looking, but so far I haven’t seen the adult worms.

A Jelly Blob - aka the egg mass of the green leaf worm (Eulalia viridis)

A Jelly Blob – aka the egg mass of the green leaf worm (Eulalia viridis)

At the other extreme, was this Lion’s Mane jellyfish that washed up on Traeth Penrhos. Funnily enough, another name for this is sea blubber.

Lion's mane jelly fish on Penrhos beach (and a size 5 foot)

Lion’s mane (Cyanea capillata) jelly fish on Penrhos beach (and a size 5 foot)