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The Smaller Creatures of the Beach

To the untrained eye, the beach looks like an impoverished environment, devoid of life. But actually, the hard-packed beach is literally crawling with creatures, so many that if people really knew what they were sitting on, they might think twice about where they put their blankets and umbrellas. The firm beach gives these animals a stable habitat that protects them, where they can burrow and use siphons, tubes, or tunnels to hide and feed.

Under the pier at the base of the supports where it is washed by waves is a good place to collect sand for seining to learn about smaller burrowing coastal organisms, such as coquina clams, sand fleas, mole crabs, and other species. You can use a vegetable strainer with a fine mesh or some of the children’s toys sold at Christy’s or T.S. Chu’s. A magnifying glass helps observe the fauna you are about to collect. Put the sand in the strainer and flush it out with sea water and look very closely at what’s caught at the bottom. The whitish, transparent, wiggling creatures may be sand fleas or mole crabs. Sometimes you will catch worms, juvenile crabs, or other creatures. The small, colorful clams are coquina. Place them in a bucket with an inch of sand and wait. In a short time, the clams will probe their siphons outside their shell, turn upright, and burrow quickly into the sand. You can fish them out and watch them do it again. Children can be entertained with this for quite some time.

These burrowing creatures feed on plankton that washes over and down into the sand. These burrowers, in turn, are eaten by ghost crabs, birds, fish, and other animals.

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