Walking anemone illuminated by Tony's strobe

Sea life: Walking anemones

Walking anemone illuminated by Tony's strobe
Walking anemone illuminated by Tony's strobe

The walking anemone (or sock anemone, or hedgehog anemone – Preactis millardae) is endemic to Cape waters and I’ve only seen it on the Smitswinkel Bay wrecks so far. It has been seen as far east as Port Elizabeth.

Walking anemone on the SAS Good Hope
Walking anemone on the SAS Good Hope

It likes deeper water, 10-30 metres. Instead of being attached to a rock or the sand (sessile), these creatures walk about with a movement like a slinky or caterpillar.  Their favourite food is multicoloured sea fans, so instead of waiting for a snack to drift by (like most anemones do), walking anemones actually have to move about to find their next meal. If you look carefully you can see how the anemone in the picture above has eaten the red sea fan to its left down to the skeletal supports (like little twigs). They also like soft corals.

Multicoloured sea fans
Multicoloured sea fans

Their bodies can stretch out to resemble a sock, but in these pictures they are scrunched up. The mouth has red lines radiating outward from it. The first time I saw one of these I thought it was a grubby orange gas flame nudibranch, because I couldn’t see the mouth stripes. Revisiting that picture (below) in light of the new specimens I’ve seen since has confirmed that it was a walking anemone and not a nudibranch!

Walking anemone on the MV Rockeater
Walking anemone on the MV Rockeater

SURG has some information about walking anemones here and here.

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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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