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Southern California’s Sea Anemones

Posted by Greg on December 21, 2011

Starburst (or Sunburst) Solitary Anemone in a Tide Pool (Photo ©Jody Diehl)

Jody and I had the good fortune of vacationing in San Diego, California recently. While there, we went tide pool exploring at Cabrillo National Monument and along the beaches in La Jolla. Tidepooling was one of the highlights of our trip. The tide pools were teaming with life. We haven’t, in the past, recognized all of the small animals in them. You have to look closely, with some knowledge of what you are looking for, so it helps to do a little research before you head out to explore tide pools.

There are two different types of  sea anemones in Southern California’s coastal tide pools: solitary and aggregate. In the wonderful book, Life Between the Tides by Jeffery L. Brandon & Frank J. Rokop, it says that “the largest of southern California’s anemones is the Solitary Anemone, reaching a diameter of up to 10 inches with it’s tentacles extended, and a column height of nearly 1 foot.”  This variety, when found in a Southern California tide pool, is usually only 3 to 5 inches wide, though.  The Solitary Anemones we spotted were a beautiful green-blue color.

The name Aggregate Anemones  comes from the fact that they clone. That is, they divide in two making two separate animals. As they do this over years, they form a cluster which is called an aggregate.  A Solitary Anemone is one that does not clone.  Thus they appear solitary.

According to National Geographic, sea anemones‘ “bodies are composed of an adhesive pedal disc, or foot, a cylindrical body, and an array of tentacles surrounding a central mouth. The tentacles are triggered by the slightest touch, firing a harpoon-like filament into their victim and injecting a paralyzing neurotoxin. The helpless prey is then guided into the mouth by the tentacles.”

Aggregate Anemones with Black Tegula Snails in a Tide Pool (Photo ©Jody Diehl)

There are more than 1,000 sea anemone species found throughout the world’s oceans at various depths, although the largest and most varied occur in coastal tropical waters. They run the full spectrum of colors and can be as small as half an inch (1.25 centimeters) or as large as 6 feet (1.8 meters) across.”

If you take a close look at the photo on the right, you will see Black Tegula snails nestled in with aggregate anemones. The black tegula snails like to feed on the kelp, algae and seaweed that wash into the tide pools.

We’re looking forward to finding the many different colors and shapes of sea anemones, as we travel and explore beaches and tide pools. If you have tide pool finds you would like to share, check out our submissions page, or leave a comment. We would love to hear about them! Also, if you’re a FaceBook user, we’d love it if you Liked us on FaceBook.

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