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Rockpool Ramble

Gudrun Limbrick is a former National Trust Beach Ranger and runs the identification website cataloguing all things found on our beaches and in our rockpools here in North Devon. Here she describes some of the creatures we are likely to see in Ilfracombe on our rocks and in our rockpools.

Twice a day, the tide goes out and reveals one of the harshest environments for wildlife that exists in our country. As the sea water disappears, our crabs, starfish, fish, anemones and all sorts of other creatures, huddle into tiny rockpools to take shelter from the drying sun, from each other and from the hungry gulls overhead.

If we take a wander to Tunnels beaches or Cheyne Beach and have a look on the rocks, and under stones, there is all sorts of wildlife waiting to be discovered. But please look, and don’t touch. Not only are our crabs likely to nip you, but our fish can bite too! And all our creatures can die in buckets and nets and prefer to be left in the safety of their chosen crevice or pool.


The creatures we find in rockpools are often nothing like the creature we find anywhere else in the UK. And anemones are a good example of this. When the tide is out, they look just like round blobs of jelly stuck fast to the rocks. When they are covered with water, they wave their many tentacles in the water to catch passing creatures, including fish.


Beadlets are our most common anemones. They are blood red, although it is also possible to find brown and green ones. Anemones fight each other, vying for the best space on the rocks, using a line of blue cells under their tentacles which give each other a sharp jab.


These anemones are very similar to beadlets but they look almost exactly like strawberries. They have yellow flecks on their bright red skin, which mimic the little seeds that cover strawberries.


While their brown bodies do not look special, they have long bright green tentacles, which have pink tips making them look like Medusa’s hair.


Our most common crab in rockpools here is the shore crab. The adults generally rock a greenish hue but the tiny juveniles can be any colour – brown, beige, white..., and even blue! In the harbour, it is common to find the remains of Edible Crabs, these are much bigger and more brown than Shore Crabs.


Hermit crabs do not waste their precious energy growing their own shells. Instead, they protect their soft, vulnerable bodies by living in empty sea snail shells. As they grow, they move into larger and larger shells.


If you look at our rocks closely, you will see that many are covered in tiny white shells. Each shell has a tiny shrimp-like creature inside. When the tide is in, it will wave its little legs in the water to catch little bits of food passing by.


Our rocks and rockpools are home to many marine snails, which have thick, tough shells to enable them to withstand our rough seas.


Limpets have conical shells, which rise to a point. They can live to be 15 years old and, after roaming looking for algae to eat at high tide, they always return to exactly the same spot on the rocks.


The shells of this pretty pink or purple and silver algae-eater used to be collected by Victorian visitors to Ilfracombe and used to make mother of pearl buttons.


This is a dark blue shell that has two identical halves. They firmly believe in strength in numbers so gather in huge colonies on our rocks, each one sticking itself down firmly with its own home- made golden strings.



These are extraordinary fish as they have learnt to live out of water. You can often find them hiding in the cracks of rocks when the tide goes out.


This fish is recognisable because it is long, thin and silver and it is often seen in the waters around Ilfracombe. It is a favourite food of the puffins on Lundy Island.


These are not really fish at all and have legs instead of fins. Remarkably, they can regrow a leg if one should be torn off in a fight. They have only a tiny mouth but a big appetite so they have evolved to spit their stomach out of their bodies so that they can digest their meals of fish, or mussels, with a bit more room to move. Then they pull their stomach back in when they are done. We also have some larger visitors to our waters. Last month, a 2 metre-long conger eel was spotted marooned in the harbour and a baby seal was stranded on the beach.

If you have rockpool creatures or beach finds you would like to identify, visit, which is packed with photos from Ilfracombe and other beaches of North Devon.


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