Feather star inside a shell

Disappearing acts

The open ocean is a wild and dangerous place – even more so than Long Street on a Saturday morning. Many of the creatures that live there have specific techniques to avoid detection by predators. Some of these techniques involve sophisticated patterning that breaks up the creature’s body profile against its environment… Some of them involve keeping very still or finding dark places to hide… And some creatures just hide under a big pile of sand. Here are a few of my favourites.

Sand sea stars hide themselves under the sand (hence their name, I assume). We came across this one just after he’d buried himself at Long Beach, and it put me in mind of Christmastime!

A sand sea star is hiding here
A sand sea star is hiding here

On a dive at the Clan Stuart we were very fortunate to see a onefin electric ray. These rays bury themselves completely in the sand, with only eyes sticking out. They can deliver a fierce electric shock, so it’s worth looking carefully at sandy patches before resting your knees on them!

Onefin electric ray completely hidden under the sand
Onefin electric ray completely hidden under the sand

I’ve been frightened many times by three spotted swimming crabs leaping out of the sand beneath me in defensive posture when I swim over them in the shallows. These crabs are sometimes huge, and when you’re not expecting an attack from below you can get a huge fright! They’re almost indistinguishable from the sand when they’re completely buried – only their eyes protrude.

A three spotted swimming crab's eyes sticking out of the sand
A three spotted swimming crab's eyes sticking out of the sand

Crown crabs are coloured so similarly to the sand that they hardly need additional camouflage, but they also bury themselves for protection. Here’s one emerging from his hiding place with pincers at the ready!

A crown crab emerging from the sand
A crown crab emerging from the sand

This last picture is of a tiny Cape sole, resting on the sand at Long Beach. He is in the middle to upper right of this photo. Look carefully and you’ll see his frilly edged body on the sand.

Juvenile Cape sole at Long Beach
Juvenile Cape sole at Long Beach

The sand is a wonderful and fascinating place, and countless creatures make their homes there. Next time you’re waiting for your fellow divers to descend, or passing over a sandy patch, look closely and see what you can find…

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Clare

Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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