[Tweeters] Birds and Barnacles

jeff gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Fri Oct 18 15:04:01 PDT 2013

"Barnacles; what could be more boring!", one might think. Seeing them down at the beach, on rocks and pilings, or whatever, at low tide they just appear to be sitting around doing nothing, which is sort of true I guess. When the tide comes in though, barnacles are kind of perky!

None other than Charles Darwin thought barnacles were pretty interesting; even after voyaging through the Galapagos' and other exotic places, he came back to England and studied barnacles, over an eight-year period, and learned a lot about things.

Barnacles, while looking more like a shelled mollusk, such as their mussel and limpet neighbors, are actually a crustacean - sort of a shrimp-like creature that in it's adult form, permanently anchors to something solid, and builds its calcareous home around itself. At high tide those little shells open up, and the barnacle feeds with rapid strokes of it's feathery feet ( about the size of the breast feather of a small bird), which strain out the plankton it feeds on. I find watching barnacles feeding to be a relaxing pastime. You might wanna try it yourself.

After working on a boat in Edmonds lately, I got in some barnacle watching time, and that got me going on doing a bit more barnacle research. One amazing factoid I found out was that for it's size, the barnacle has the longest penis of any animal on earth."Oh yeah, sure they do !", I scoffed, knowing this subject to be in the notorious realm of braggarts everywhere. Then I googled 'barnacle penis video', and was amazed. (security note: probably best not to search this topic on a work computer).

The barnacle has a perfectly good reason for such a thing, because it cant move from it's spot. So it has to reach out to it's near neighbors, who, like it, are in a community of hermaphrodites, so somebody is usually available. The barnacle penis can be 8 times it's body length.

Seems to me that being equipped like a barnacle would be a great example of "watch out what you pray for". Imagine being like a barnacle, and you're in a crowded tent campground at the edge of loop C. Sort of sleeping in your shell tent, and feeling a bit amorous, your apparatus sneaks out between the tent flaps, and crossing the road and into campground loop D, looking for a friend, when it gets run over by the truck of a park ranger doing a night patrol. That would be a rude awakening. Or maybe, being shy and shopping at the mall, you have to ask a female clerk where the levi's with the front hose rack are located.

And now, moving along into birds, because tweeters is not a crustacean site.

If you're now worried about there being too many barnacles around, you'll be glad to know that a number of birds help keep the population in check. Surfbirds, turnstones, and oystercatchers eat barnacles. And in the local ecology, barnacles are just a link down the food chain to feeding other birds; the Shiner surfperch, a common little fish in coastal waters, eats the feet of feeding barnacles, which I've watched down on the Everett waterfront in rare periods of clear water. In tern, I've seen the little surfperch in the mouths of Caspian Terns down there, and once in Seattle saw a young Rhinoceros Auklet horking one down at close range.

Barnacles and birds also have a connection in myth. Back in the day, coastal Europeans thought that Barnacle Geese were spontaneously generated from Gooseneck barnacles, since the geese bred unseen in the Arctic far away. The gooseneck barnacle is a different sort of barnacle, which you can see out on our open ocean coasts, with a long flexible dark "neck". If you've seen that barnacle, and the goose, it sort of makes sense. Kind of like a story I might make up if I didn't know the facts. Or maybe even if I did.

Jeff Gibson
Everett Wa.

PS: somebody even wrote a book "Darwin and the Barnacle", I haven't read it yet. Everett library has a copy.

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