Barnacles feeding

Coastal Ballet

I’ve cut my feet on them way too many times, and every spring we have to scrape them off the hull of our boat. Still, I can’t help but appreciate barnacles: they’re at the same time wonderfully simple and ever so complex.

Simple, because they have few internal organs and, aside from their larval stage, spend their entire lives in a single place, upside-down inside their calcite shell. Complex, because they must withstand such a wide range of conditions, all the way from fully immersed in the saltchuck to high and dry for hours at a time.

Often they live in places with a strong tidal current or pounding surf, so barnacle cement has to be amazingly strong – much more effective than any human-concocted glues!

Did you know there are over 1200 species of barnacles? Historically, some of the larger ones formed an important part of the diet of coastal First Nations, which is why today, we find barnacle shells in middens all along our coast.

These hard-shelled little crustaceans can also be very beautiful. As the tide comes in, they open their cover plates and wave their feathery legs about to feed on plankton – a scene that can rival the loveliest human ballet.

All this, from such a “simple” little animal!

(The photo above shows seven barnacles at different stages of the feeding process – you can click on it to enlarge.) 

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About Laurie MacBride, Eye on Environment

Photographer and writer focusing on nature and the environment

4 responses »

  1. I had NO idea! How absolutely fascinating! Great photograph here, Laurie, it’s a great way to illustrate the bigger point you were making.

  2. Phil Lanoue says:

    You have found both beauty and considerable interest in one of nature’s more simple life forms. Very well done!

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