Living things

Animals

Common cuttlefish | Photo: Paul Naylor
Common cuttlefish | Photo: Paul Naylor

Here is some information about a few of the animals that live in Chichester Harbour. Crabs, Periwinkles, Water Voles, Seals, Lugworms, Freshwater Shrimps, Cuttlefish, Speckled Wood Butterfly, Peacock Butterfly, Ragworms, Cockles, Bats and Sticklebacks.

Some you might be lucky enough to see but others you will only know they are there by the clues they leave behind. There are so many interesting birds that they have a page to themselves, even though they are animals.

Crabs

Shelter and safety
Crabs live in the sea and can often be found on the seashore, hiding in rock pools and among seaweed. They have a soft body covered by a hard shell which is usually green- brown. They grow to about 9 cm and they have 10 legs. The front two legs are claws, which they use to catch food and fight with. Camouflage colouring and a hard shell help to protect crabs from wading birds that like to eat them. Crabs run sideways, which confuses anything trying to catch them!

Shore crab
Shore crab

Food and water
They use their claws to catch and eat food. They like to eat meat and will eat almost anything alive or dead! Catching crabs on the end of a line with a piece of bacon has been a favourite children’s pastime for many generations.
Growth and reproduction
A crab grows by shedding its shell, exposing a new soft one underneath. This takes in water, expands and then hardens. The white ‘dead’ crabs that you find on the seashore are not dead but just the old shell that has been left behind.
The eggs are carried in a flap on the underneath of the female and then released into the water where they float as part of the plankton. After about 3 months they sink to the sea bed as tiny crabs.


Periwinkles

Periwinkle
Periwinkle

Shelter and safety
Periwinkles are small, dark coloured snails that live on the seashore. They have a rounded spiral shell and are up to 3 cm high. They are very common even though they have been collected for centuries by people to be cooked and eaten.
Their tough shell protects the soft snail inside from being damaged by crashing waves. Their shell also helps protect them from hungry wading birds although there are several birds that are able to crack the shell and eat them.
At low tide they are in danger of drying out so they keep moisture in by closing the entrance of their shell with a horny plate called an operculum, like we would close the door of our house to keep the bad weather out. They can also stick themselves to rocks with a film of mucus.
Food and water
When the tide is in, they feed by scraping seaweed from rocks or eating dead plants. They are able to live in polluted water near sewage works and in marinas.
Growth and reproduction
After mating, the female releases a capsule containing about 9 eggs which hatch and float in the sea. They form part of the plankton before dropping to the seabed and then crawling to the shore.


Water voles

Water vole
Water vole

Shelter and safety
Water voles are very rare mammals about the size of a small guinea pig. They have dark brown fur, a blunt nose, small ears and a furry tail. They have a dense undercoat of short fur and long outer hair, which keep them warm and dry when they are swimming in the water. They nest in a system of burrows in the banks of a stream where they hide away from herons, owls and pike which would like to eat them.
Food and water
They eat waterside plants such as grasses, sedges and willow shoots on the banks of clean, relatively undisturbed streams and ditches. They are active by day but are difficult to spot, but you may see their quite large, rectangular burrows in the banks of the streams.
Growth and reproduction
Although they are very rare, there are many colonies around the harbour and the Conservancy and other people are working hard to protect them so they do not become extinct.
They can rear 4 or 5 litters of young a year between March and October in an underground nest made of woven plant material.


Common Seal

Common seal
Common seal

Shelter and safety
There are about 14 common or harbour seals living in the harbour. They are mottled grey and brown in colour and the males are about 1.7m long, the females are smaller. They swim by moving their back flippers from side to side. They have whiskers that they use to feel their way around the seabed if the water is cloudy. They like to bask on sand or mud banks near the high water line when the tide is out, where they can easily be mistaken for rocks! They keep a look out for danger and if they feel threatened they will take to the water.
Food and water
At high tide they hunt for fish in the water. They dive to the seabed to find flat fish such as flounders and other bottom dwelling fish. In between dives they can sometimes be seen bobbing in the water with just their heads showing. They are becoming less shy of people and they have even been seen in the marina where they have been known to bask on the deck of a boat!
Growth and reproduction
Seals mate at sea in the autumn. One pup is born in June or July on an exposed rock or sandbank. The pup can swim almost immediately and can suckle milk from its mother on land or in the water.


Lugworms

Lugworm
Lugworm

Shelter and safety
Lugworms are reddish brown worms that live on sandy or muddy shores. They grow up to 20 cm long and live in the bottom of a U shaped burrow. They line the walls of their burrows with sticky mucus to stop them collapsing and keep a current of water moving through to provide oxygen. There can be thousands of lugworms in a beach and they hide in their burrows away from wading birds such as redshank, which like to eat them. Fishermen also like to dig them up to use as bait to catch fish.
Food and water
They eat the sand and mud that falls into the top of their burrow and digest the small pieces of plant and other food in it. The waste sand and mud forms worm casts on the beach that we sometimes call ‘sand spaghetti’.
Growth and reproduction
Many lugworms spawn together into the sea at the same time in October and the larvae stay near the seabed where they develop into adults.


Freshwater shrimps

Freshwater shrimps
Freshwater shrimps

Shelter and safety
Freshwater shrimps are very common small creatures that live in streams and ponds. Their bodies are flattened and curved with lots of legs. They swim on their sides using their legs. They grow up to 2.5 cm long and are a translucent pale brown colour. They live on the bottom of the pond or stream and among the plants.
Food and water
They eat small bits of plants and dead material and in doing so help to keep the water clean. They locate food by using their long antennae.
Growth and reproduction
The male is larger than the female and they breed very successfully. The female holds the eggs in a brood pouch under her body and the eggs hatch into miniature adults not larvae.


Cuttlefish

Common cuttlefish | Photo: Paul Naylor
Common cuttlefish
Photo: Paul Naylor

Shelter and safety
Many people find white, oval cuttlebones on the seashore. However not many people have seen a live cuttlefish. A cuttlefish is related to an octopus. The cuttlebone that you sometimes find is inside the cuttlefish and is covered by the flesh of the creature.
The bone is light and porous and the cuttlefish can fill it with water to make it sink to the seabed so it can hide in the sand. When the cuttlefish empties the bone of water it can float and swim. A cuttlefish is oval, up to 40 cm long and is covered in a zebra stripe pattern, which helps to camouflage it among the eelgrass and seaweed. Its body is surrounded by fins like a skirt, which undulate to help it swim. If it is attacked it can produce a cloud of ink in which to hide. It has large eyes and it can change colour by opening and closing colour cells in its skin, which helps to camouflage it and confuses its prey.
Food and water
It has a tough mouth like a beak to eat crustaceans, especially crabs. It has 10 tentacles around its mouth. Two of these are long with suckers on the end, which it can shoot out to catch prey. It likes to live among eelgrass and seaweed on a sandy or muddy shore so that it can bury itself in the sand or hide in the eelgrass to wait for prey. It can move fast by sucking in water and shooting it out of a funnel that propels it forwards.
Growth and reproduction
It lays clumps of black eggs called ‘sea raisins’ or ‘sea grapes’. They are attached to eelgrass or seaweed.
For more information on marine animals see 'Great British Marine Animals’, Paul Naylor'


Speckled wood butterfly

Speckled Wood butterfly | Illustration: M Foster
Speckled Wood butterfly
Illustration: M Foster

Shelter and safety
The speckled wood is a common butterfly of open woodland glades. They can be seen flying in sunny areas and will defend a favourite spot by chasing other butterflies away. Their colours of brown with cream spots camouflage them among the trees. When they rest with their wings together they look like a dead leaf. The eggs hatch into green caterpillars with cream stripes, which look similar to the grass on which they feed. This makes it hard for birds to see and eat them.
Food and water
The caterpillars feed on grass and the butterflies feed on honeydew, which is produced by aphids such as greenfly.
Growth and reproduction
They lay their eggs on the stems of grasses. The caterpillars grow and then turn into a chrysalis. This takes about a month in the summer. Caterpillars that hatch in the autumn stay as caterpillars all winter and then in the spring they turn into butterflies


Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly | Photo: B English
Peacock butterfly | Photo: B English

Shelter and safety
Peacock butterflies are very colourful with large spots on their wings like those on a peacock’s tail. The spots look like eyes and confuse and frighten birds when they try to catch and eat them.
Food and water
They feed on the nectar of flowers in summer and rotten fruit in the autumn. They lay their eggs on nettles that the caterpillars feed on when they hatch. The caterpillars are black and hairy.
Growth and reproduction
The caterpillars turn into a chrysalis and then hatch into a butterfly. The adult butterflies can hibernate through the winter in a sheltered place such as a shed.


Ragworms

Ragworm & shellfish
Ragworm & shellfish

Shelter and safety
Ragworms are brown worms that live in the mud and grow to about 12 cm long. They are able to swim or crawl through the mud using bristles, which look like legs. They hide in the mud from birds such as curlews that catch and eat them by probing the mud with their long beaks. Fishermen also like to dig them up and use them as bait to catch fish.
Food and water
They live in salt water where it is muddy or sandy. They are active hunters, crawling through the sand and mud to catch and eat small creatures by shooting out their strong jaws.
Growth and reproduction
Many ragworms release sperm and eggs together whilst swimming in the water. The fertilised eggs develop into very small larvae and then drop to the bottom and grow there.


Cockles

Cockle shells
Cockle shells

Shelter and safety
Cockles are molluscs that have a hard outer shell and a soft creature inside. They grow to about 5 cm and have a double shell held together by a hinge. They live buried in clean sand on the seashore just under the surface. At low tide they clamp their shells shut and hide in the sand from birds such as gulls and oystercatchers, which are good at breaking into their shells. They are also eaten by starfish and flatfish. People also like to gather and eat cockles.
Food and water
Cockles feed by drawing water through a tube called a siphon when the tide is in. They strain out small creatures to eat and then expel the water through a second siphon. They have to live near the surface of the mud because their siphon is short.
Growth and reproduction
They release both eggs and sperm into the water and the developing larvae float among the plankton. When they are bigger they settle on the seabed.


Bats - Pipistrelle Bats

Shelter and safety
Bats are fascinating animals. They are small mammals that can fly, with a mouse-like body covered in brown fur and large wings. The wings resemble a hand with a skin-like membrane stretched between the long fingers. They have a hook-like thumb on the edge of the wing, which helps them grip on to surfaces when they are roostingPipistrelle Bat. Pipistrelle bats are Britain’s smallest and most common bat. They are only 3 cm long with a wingspan of 22 cm. Bats live in colonies of between 25 and several hundred bats. They like to roost during the day in buildings or trees where they can squeeze into very small spaces of less than 2 cm. They hibernate in winter as there is very little food available, although they will wake up briefly to feed during warmer spells of weather.

Food and water
Bats are most often seen flying at dusk or at night, darting about catching insects, which they eat in flight. They leave their roost about half an hour before sunset. They have jerky, erratic flight, often flickering their wings. In old times people used to call them a flittermouse. They feed on flying insects and can eat 3000 in one night! They like mosquitoes, midges, moths and caddis flies and often find them over water such as streams and ponds. In the dark they find the insects by using ‘echo-location’. They make a frequent, very high pitched sound. When the sound hits an insect it bounces off and the bat hears the echo and can pinpoint exactly where the insect is. Bats are so good at this that even if there is an insect above your head, the bat can catch the insect without getting caught in your hair (occasionally they do make mistakes but it is VERY rare!) They also like to feed on insects in open woodland, along hedgerows and in gardens.

Growth and reproduction
Bats tend to have only one baby at a time in June or July. Female bats join together and form maternity colonies where their single young is born. They like to roost in small spaces on the outside of buildings such as behind tiles or boards. Sometimes they have more than one roost and move around within a small area. The babies are fed only on their mother’s milk. Mothers need to feed themselves during the night so they leave their babies in a bat crèche. By the time the young are six weeks old they can catch insects for themselves. Bats can live up to 16 years.

Bats are declining in number, probably because there are less roost sites and food available. Bats and their roosts are protected by law.

More information
Fishbourne meadows and pond is a very important site for bats as six different species of bat can be found there. . Pipistrelle bats can be seen flying over the pond and along the hedgerows at dusk. In recent years it was discovered that there were in fact two kinds of pipistrelles They each make different echo location sounds. Noctule bats are one of the largest British species and are usually the first bat to appear in the evening and often fly very high near the top of trees. Natterer’s bats tend to fly slowly among the trees. Daubenton’s bats are medium sized and fly very close to the surface of the water to catch insects. Whiskered bats are small bats with shaggy fur and short stubbly hairs around their eyes and nose which look like whiskers. Brown long-eared bats are medium sized and have ears that are nearly as long as their bodies although they may not be obvious as they can tuck them away.

In the last few years the Conservancy has led bat-listening walks and on these has regularly recorded seeing Noctule, Pipistrelle and Daubenton bats. To locate the bats, special listening boxes called bat detectors are used. These transfer the high pitch sounds from the bats echo-location systems down to a level which can be heard by the human ear. The different kinds of bats give different patterns of sound and pitch and this is used to identify the species.


Stickleback - 9 spined

Shelter and safety
Sticklebacks are small fish up to 10 cm long with a long thin body and spines along their backs. The nine spined stickleback has nine spines along its back but also one on each fin and one under its tail. The colour of the fish varies but is generally olive green or grey above and bronze or silver below.9 spined stickleback The spines are not very long so they are not much protection from other fish and birds. However, their colour helps to camouflage them when they hide among the water plants.

Food and water
Sticklebacks usually live in ponds or slow moving freshwater streams but they can also be found in estuaries where the water is salty. They eat other creatures in the stream such as mayfly larvae, worms and freshwater shrimps.

Growth and reproduction

In spring the male stickleback changes colour and becomes marbled grey-green above and black below with white spines. Most fish release eggs and sperm into the water and then do nothing more to care for their young. However the male stickleback builds a nest of plant material stuck together with sticky mucus. He attracts females to lay their eggs in the nest and he fertilises them. When the nest is full, he looks after the eggs and attacks anything that would harm them. He also takes care of the young fish when they hatch.

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Chichester Harbour Conservancy Education
Harbour Office, Itchenor, Chichester, PO20 7AW.   Tel: 01243 512 301