Wednesday 7 June 2017

The Mind Blowing Dreamfish

There's no getting away from it, this May was very changeable weather-wise but we have a beautiful day today and here we are, back on the cliffs where we left off last week and the Prickly Pear is celebrating the sunshine by bursting into flower.

If you look at the lower plates you'll notice that the snails have decided that this is a great place to build their summer city. If it remains dry until October, which is quite possible, then this is where they'll stay all sealed up and conserving moisture.

If you take a look through the binoculars you can see a few Yellow-legged Gulls taking a rest on the clear, calm waters. No, it's not a seagull, there's no such bird (or so pedantic ornithologists maintain). Truth of the matter is we've been calling them seagulls since the 1540s for the simple reason that before we started dropping food all over the place inland and burying heaps of treats in landfill sites gulls were found by the sea where they could find a meal. Gulls, being intelligent, adaptable opportunists now quite happily form colonies far from the ocean waves. Even so, 'seagull' was a bit of a superfluity, after all, we don't call whales seawhales do we? 

That's the cliff path successfully negotiated so let's probe around the rocks and see what's occurring. Quite a few of these little woodlouse like creatures scurrying about. They are related as you might expect; along with shrimps, crabs and lobsters. They are all crustaceans (literally animals that have formed a crust referring to their hard carapaces). This particular one looks almost like two different animals joined together. The front half is quite sturdy with strong legs whilst the back half tapers off with trailing legs. This is rather a neat design; the front legs are land legs and the back ones are sea legs. Crustaceans with this body plan are called amphipods which is derived from the Greek meaning different feet. He's just dropped into the sea – change drive gear! I suggest that we don our snorkels and follow his example. We'll swim out and investigate those offshore islets, round the headland and come in to some rather nice rock pools.

We don't have big tides here in the Mediterranean so you don't have to dive too deep or swim too far to get out of the intertidal zone. Just a few metres down and these islets give us a whole new ecosystem to explore. Now if you thought the amphipod was weird, welcome to the venerable world of the demospongiae. These animals have been around for over five hundred million years. They have no true tissues, organs or nervous systems and they eat and breathe by letting the water flow through them (which is why they are full of holes). You've met them before of course, the familiar bath sponge (see Beachcombin') is a member of this class of ancient animals.

We're about half way to the rock pools now and in slightly deeper water and I see that we have a mixed school of fish swimming along with us which gives me the chance to reiterate the difference between venomous and poisonous. The golden eyed ones are Salema Porgies (which are poisonous) and the others are Dusky Spinefoots, a type of Rabbitfish (which are venomous). Where have you gone? Come back here. The Rabbitfish have a couple of spines containing venom which it uses for defence but don't worry, it's not strong enough to be a danger to us and we're not going to threaten them anyway. The Salema Porgies on the other hand can, in rare cases[1], be poisonous and cause all sorts of hallucinations if you eat them. Hence their alternative name of Dreamfish. So, if something bites or stings and you get nasties in your bloodstream then it's venomous but if you eat something and get nasties in your bloodstream then it's poisonous. A nice little etymological distinction to muse upon whilst you're recovering in hospital.

Well, here we are at the rock pools which we'll be exploring next time so let's take a leisurely swim back to where we left our clothes and just enjoy the sun and the sea.

The Extra Bit

#Jeremy the #Vine Hawk Moth caterpillar has eaten seven vine leaves and has waddled off under a stone to pupate. This may take him some time but I'll let you know when he emerges in his full glory.

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See detailed pictures on Flickr
Read more about the flora and flora of the island in The Nature of Crete (Flipboard Magazine)
Explore the region with the #CreteNature interactive Hiking and Nature Map


  1. That's beautiful! I always remember that you can find Minoan remains when you snorkel off Olous near Elounda

    1. I haven't been snorkeling there yet, only birding, botanising and bug hunting.


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