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Rainbow warriors beneath your feet

I love beachcombing - you never know what you might find, especially after rough seas and onshore winds. I was wandering along the strandline on Eyemouth Beach the other day when I spotted a beautiful sea gooseberry on the sand. These jelly jewels spend their whole lives as plankton (some creatures are only planktonic for dispersal during their larval phase) and as such they are mostly at the mercy of the sea, going where the waves and currents take them. If you take a close look at a the photo of the sea gooseberry in my hand you might just be able to make out stripes running from one end of the egg shaped blob of jelly to the other. These are the swimming combs that give this phylum of animals, the ctenophores, their alternative name of comb jellies. There are 8 swimming combs which are lines of hairs, called cilia, fused together on a plate. It is the beating of these cilia which enable the creatures to have some, very limited, control over their motion, but mostly they go where the sea takes them. When in the water, the beating cilia catch the light, the creatures are lit up by rainbows as in the picture below! Sea gooseberries feed on other planktonic creatures which they catch with two sticky tentacles (visible in the picture below) which they trail like fishing lines from their sides. Sea gooseberries can be found throughout the year, but are more common in the summer months.

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