RSPB Scotland's Niamh Byrne tells us about some of the marvellous creatures you might find when exploring rockpools. If you're planning on going out rockpooling please be safe and follow Government guidance for stopping the spread of Covid-19.

Discovering seashore critters

One of the greatest things regarding outdoor education is that it is unlimited: Full of varied adventures and activities to take part in and learn all about the natural world (While doing so, you can even complete our RSPB Wild Challenge to receive rewards to celebrate your achievements).

One of those activities, which never get old, is Rockpooling!

a rockpool

As the tide retreats, little pools of refuge are left behind. These rockpools are home to fascinating and bizarre creatures. For a fleeting moment you are exposed to the fascination of the underwater world, full of a rich diversity of creatures. It is hard for us to understand their ways of life but an active rockpool can be just as busy as the hustle and bustle of a town square (pre-social distancing!).

All you need:

What to do:

  • Check tide times, best time is an hour before low tide so to ensure there is no incoming tides
  • Turn over as many rocks as possible (If you don’t turn you don’t learn), dip your net into rock pools and place the critters you find into a bucket
  • Try identifying what the critter is using your activity sheet
  • Once completed, carefully overturn the rocks again and avoid damaging any animals’ underneath

The water trapped within these rockpools are a fascinating temporary ecosystem with many seashore critters. You must be a strong minibeast to compete for the best space within the pool. If you lose you may be expected to withstand hours lying in the baking sun, some may choose dense rocks to look for shelter, moisture and protection, until the tide turns again. And yet rockpools remain a thriving microcosm of our shoreline species with over 100 species of crustaceans, anemones, fish, bivalves, molluscs, starfish and even sponges.

Here are some of my rockpool favourites…

Common starfish 

starfish on hand

It is our most common starfish, having five arms and covered in white pimples.They can even regrow their arms if they lose one in fight! They use their little suckers at the bottom of their legs to prise open molluscs. With this, they can liquidise the animal inside by secreting an enzyme within so it can be easily eaten. I would not like to be sharing a rockpool with these guys!

Hermit crab

hermit crab

Look out for snail shells moving rapidly underwater as this might mean you have found a hermit crab! Since these crabs lack the hard body of other crabs, they use vacant snail shells as their home. Since they must borrow shells from other animals, once they outgrow them, they must find another one. You might be lucky to find two fighting over a shell if you look close enough. 

Common limpets

The overlooked common limpet is the king of clinging. They have the strongest natural biological material ever created, even stronger than our own bones. They use their strong rasp-like tongue to feed algae and material off rocks, which makes it easier for us to adventure around the rockpools. They will explore for food and once low tide comes they will return back to their own 'home scar'.

Common crab

crab on a hand

You may find the common crab lurking under rocks, hiding in weeds and buried within sand. They are timid and may pretend to be invisible once spotted. Try pick one up and place it on the flat of your hand and after a bit of time you will feel the tickle of their feet exploring your hand. Remember to hide them under a crack or crevice when done as otherwise birds can find them as easy food!

Beadlet anemone 

red beadlet anemone on rock

You may find a strange reddish jelly blob attached to side of rocks; they are called beadlet anemones. However, they are far from a boring red blob; once covered with water they release their wavy and sticky tentacles which has the ability to sting their prey. They bring a fantastic splash of colour to our rock pool expedition!