Thursday, 21 October 2010

Geese Come From Barnacles - Who Knew!?!

This week, my Macro Monday posting was a Mystery - a close up of an organism with a challenge to guess said organism. In this case, there were two organisms and, as it turns out, two people who were spot on with their guesses - well done Dave and Susannah, who both correctly guessed the identities as gooseneck barnacles and a purple sea star (Pisaster ochraceus). And, yes, before anyone points it out, I do realise that the starfish that I have pictured is orange, but that is the way of the world. Not all purple starfish are purple.

So, both of these photos were taken at Chesterman Beach, Tofino, just north of the famous Long Beach of the Pacific Rim National Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island. We were there quite early one August morning to ensure that we had the lowest tide possible. This was necessary so that we would actually see some of the more rugged critters that live on this wild and exposed coast without getting completely soaked by a huge wave or, even more annoying, washed away by one, never to be seen again. And I am not joking - this is an alarmingly regular occurence along this little stretch of apparent heaven.

So, the gooseneck barnacle:

This really is one strange creature. First of all, it is not, in any way, related to mussels, clams, scallops or any other tasty shellfish of molluscan descent, except for the fact that it is an invertebrate. It is, in fact, a crustacean and therefore related to crabs, shrimps, lobsters and woodlice etc. Looks can certainly be deceiving, can't they? Probably the most well known fact about barnacles, of any variety, is the size of their manhood. Pfft, it seems that this is a very important thing to be knowledgeable about - whose is the longest? Well, the winner is these chaps. Your average barnacle has a penis that, relative to the size of the animal's body, is longer than any other animals. No, really, I don't care what Jimmy told you the other day whilst imbibing too much at the pub, the barnacle is the winner, with a whopper that is eight times the length of its body. That would be like a 6ft man having a 48ft long one-eyed trouser snake! Just imagine trying to pack that away into your pants! Well, I can't, obviously, since I am a woman......... I did find one reference to a barnacle with a penis 40 times its own body length, but I think that barnacle must have been down the pub the same night as Jimmy!

Of course, we all know that size is not everything, and in the barnacle world, this does indeed turn out to be the case. Barnacles have such long penises because they are sessile, stuck down to whatever surface that they have chosen to live on. Most such sessile organisms chose to reproduce by squirting their sperm and eggs into the water and letting fate take its course. Barnacles, however, prefer to keep things personal. Since they can't snuggle up close to their intended, they need to be well endowed in order to reach another barnacle. It turns out that the length, and therefore the thickness of the penis can be varied depending on how rough the water is. If it is quite rough, a long, slender penis becomes too floppy to be useful, and so the barnacle will opt for a shorter, stouter penis that can withstand the currents. In calmer waters, longer prevails. Of course, you might want to know who on earth would want to research barnacle sex life in so much detail and how they actually do it. Well, the research involved a custom-made penis pump built out of tubes and hypodermic syringes and if you want to read anymore, then go here. I think I have said enough.

Here is another interesting fact about gooseneck barnacles. It was once thought that barnacle geese developed from this crustacean.!?! Huh!?! I don't care whether you knew about bird migrations, the birds and the bees, where babies come from and all the other facts of life, how could anyone possibly imagine that geese came from barnacles? Apparently, the confusion was prompted by the similarities in colour and shape. Again, huh!?! A goose looks absolutely nothing like a barnacle. Come on people, what were you thinking back in the 12th century?

That was going to be it for this post, but then Englishmum alerted me to another interesting fact about these barnacles that I had to go and research. Apparently, people actually eat them! Not only that, but it turns out that they are a highly desirable, highly prized food that some claim are the earth's best tasting seafood. So, next time you are in Spain, order some percebes. Not only can you indulge in its succulent lusciousness, but you can also look forward to its aphrodisiatic properties - obviously, any animal with a penis that length must do wonders in the bed department for anyone who eats it. But, be warned, you also need to be prepared for a rather large bill at the end, since these things do not come cheap.

The second Macro Mystery photo was an orange purple sea star - here we can see a whole bunch of them all snuggling up together to try to conserve water until the tide rushes back in. If you want to read anything more about these little stars, go and have a read of this post. Oh yes, I should mention that this starfish is also called the ochre sea star, just to keep everyone just a little bit confused.

PS. I do realise that I could have boosted my readership substantially by mentioning penises in my title, but even I won't sink that low.......


Cortes said...

Good story line, and I always appreciate the chuckles. Catchy title as well. I love the 3rd photo by the way, it is excellent!

Susannah Anderson said...

And by how much did your readership boost by your multiple uses of the p-word in the post itself?

<Thinking, thinking ... can I catch my flatworms "at it" ... is it worth the effort?)


Suldog said...

Odd. I vaguely remember reading of these barnacle's penile lengths somewhere back in my childhood. Lucky for me, I'm not one to worry about comparisons :-)

Don't Bug Me! said...

Cortes: I do my best to please!

Susannah: Apparently, the multiple uses of the p-word did nothing to boost my readership. In fact, judging by the number of comments, it had the opposite effect!

Suldog: I thought that was something that all men worried about........I guess I was wrong ;o)

Baino said...

Haha well I never. And I thought I'd tasted most fruits de mer. Not sure I'd stretch to a barnacle though, I think the name puts me off. As for orange purple starfish, now that's just plain silly

Don't Bug Me! said...

Baino: They are also called ochre sea stars and come in that colour too!