Stranger than fiction

The beach can be full of surprises and intrigue. When I was walking today I saw something that I thought at first was discarded plastic, or a large coil of orange peel… sandy and dull but very pretty with the sun behind it: A mystery to solve – and the answer – very surprising!

The beach today

These strange forms were cast across the sand, some curled upwards, others lying flat like horse shoes or half crescent moons. They blended in with the sand in colour, looking innocuous and partially camouflaged. You could pick them up without them disintegrating. They felt like thin leather, and seemed to be made up of row upon row of tiny dots.

Did you know?

They are the eggs of the Necklace Shell (Euspira catena). This is a pretty pale yellow sea snail, with distinct lines between the rounded whorls, up to 3 cm high by 3 cm wide. They like to be in the sandy bottoms at the far reaches of low tide. These snails are carnivores and blood-thirsty hunters the likes of which only wild story-tellers could invent in fiction: These snails hunt their prey by burying themselves in the sand and creeping up on other snails and bivalves. Once found, they capture their prey under their large muscular foot. They excrete a solution to thin the shell, then they drill a hole through. The creature inside is then paralysed and sucked out through the hole as lunch. If you ever find a shell on a beach with a tiny hole in it, you will now know how it died.

And their story gets worse. They breed by laying thousands of eggs that are knitted together in a mixture of jelly-like mucus and sand, and moulded by their muscular foot into necklace shapes. These eggs usually lie below the low tide mark, but storms and strong on-shore winds can drive them up the beach to be left to dry out by the retreating tide – which is how I came to find them. However, the storms and waves are the least of the eggs’ problems; their nursery necklace is a contest and fight of the fittest. They eat each other. The fastest and fattest hatch to become the next generation of predator snail.

A Reflective Moment

You never can tell from first appearances – or second! From a drab curl of sand, to a pretty twist letting light illuminate its hidden pattern, to its origin from the small pretty snail that turns out to be ruthless killer: Steven King would be proud of this storyline!

How amazing nature is! How ingenious. Maybe ruthless against our benchmark of societal norms, but the tiny snail has adapted to reduce its chances of extinction by developing an effective hunting strategy, laying eggs so it can produce thousands in the hope that some will survive, and although a somewhat abhorrent thought from a human perspective, a logical one also – that by linking all the eggs together in the necklace, the eggs will have a ready supply of nutrients to grow (well, a few of them…) to ensure some survive to adulthood.

I think the old ‘never judge a book by it’s cover’ saying is appropriate today. Go cautiously through the week, not judging, but being curious. Let people and situations reveal themselves through your patience, and may you be rewarded by understanding people’s full story, to find beauty and wonder in the telling.

The Voice of the Sea

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