By Sarah Ward
Living Seas Officer
The festive season is now upon us; whilst marine creatures may not don their Santa hat and sing carols, some of them have a Christmas theme year-round! Here are some of our favourites from our local seas…
Christmas tree sea slug (Dendronotus frondosus)
This mollusc is one of our larger sea slugs, at up to 10cm in length. It has up to nine pairs of long, branched gills as well as branched rhinophores, giving it a bushy, pine-like appearance!
Candy striped flatworm (Prostheceraeus vittatus) It’s quite obvious where this beautifully patterend creature got its common name from – and it certainly has a bit of a festive feel about it! Flatworms crawl along the seabed using ‘cilia’, but are occasionally also seen free-swimming in the open water.
Image: Francis Jeffcock
Chimney sponge (Polymastia penicillus)
So called due to the open-ended papillae, however Father Christmas would certainly have a hard time squeezing down one of these small creatures, which are no bigger than a fist in size.
Image: Rebecca Harris
Chocolate finger sponge (Raspailia ramosa) Chocolate fingers are a firm favourite in many peoples’ houses at Christmas time but are a common site year-round along the south coast. The dark brown branches of the sponge are covered in bristly hairs which attract particles of silt in the water.
Image: Bryony Chapman
Star Ascidian are a colonial form of Sea Squirt. Encrusting rocks and creating beautiful patterns. They feed by drawing in water and filtering out Plankton and detritus.
Image: Clare Saxby
Orange pumice bryozoan (Cellepora pumicosa)
For me, Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without an orange in the bottom of my stocking! This small but distinctive bryozoan encrusts rock and forms bright orange clumps, the surface of which looks similar to the surface of a citrus fruit – but with a spiky surface.
Image: Joanna Porter
Ribbon worms (Nemertea)
These worms are soft and smooth, with long, cylindrical bodies – although I wouldn’t want one decorating my house or wrapping up my presents! Most commonly seen is the bootlace worm, which can be found under rocks and has a very slimy appearance.
Image: Janet Howell