New England Mermaid

What Happens in the Tidepool Stays in the Tidepool! (unless a mermaid gossips)


Stuffed toys – everybody loves them, including mermaids. I’ve seen so many … teddy bears, unicorns, bunnies, sea creatures like whales and seals … but I think that my house on land (in contrast with undersea homes) is the only one that has a stuffed toy barnacle! Prove me wrong – I bet you can’t! Today’s stories are going to start G-rated, but we’ll be heading to R-rated, borderline X-rated, so stay tuned!

Let’s start with the G-rated part of the story. We’re going back close to 20 years. I loved to take my son to explore tidepools and go beach-combing. I have some wonderful memories of those times. One day, I taught him about the barnacles that we saw. Sometime during the next week, he was spending the day with his grandparents on my husband’s side. His memere (French for grandmother) always had craft materials on hand. If my son could dream up the idea, she would have the materials to make it work. Imagine my surprise when we went to pick him up, and he shared with me his new stuffed toy. My son asked his memere (grandmother) to help him make a stuffed barnacle. And they did! I was so proud!

Check it out – Barney the Barnacle – pretty impressive, isn’t it? It’s a barnacle, it’s a pillow, it’s a stuffed animal, it’s a door-stop … and it’s definitely one of a kind … and it is in MY house! Cool!

When most people think of barnacles, they do not think of them as the endearing teeny creatures that they are! This may be why there is not a current market for stuffed toy barnacles. They have been mis-represented in the media as something negative. There was Popeye’s nemesis Barnacle Bill. Any character with the word Barnacle in the name is generally not represented as a glamorous or loveable character. Many a boat owner becomes angry or frustrated by barnacles choosing their hulls on which to create their homes.

Ah, so many people missing out on the charm of our mini-neighbors – they are actually quite cute! And, as you will soon learn, quite bawdy and well, shall we say, well-endowed. (Just a little teaser to keep you reading).

We’re still G-rated (for now). Barnacles have amazing superpowers. They don’t wear capes, they don’t fly, they don’t have x-ray vision. Though in my research I did come across a SpongeBob SquarePants superhero character named Barnacle Bob. Barnacle Bob could attach barnacles to his lungs to breathe underwater – mer-kids and mer-adults, do NOT try this at home! One of the barnacles’ superpowers is that they can build their own homes, and they build them in lots of places, even on other animals. I mean, how many creatures would dare to build their home on the face of a huge humpback whale? These tiny friends have chutzpah! Now, totally true – that word, “chutzpah”, just came out naturally as I was typing, and I have honestly NEVER used that word before. But the wee barnacles deserve it. It’s a yiddish word – I don’t speak yiddish. Yet somehow the little barnacle inspired this word to come to my mind. In case you are wondering, it means audacity, major self-confidence, courage! It’s an interesting word – it can be positive or negative depending on context and tone. This barnacle chutzpah is positive chutzpah! Well, enough about my new word and back to our new mini-friends. So Barney and his buddies secrete these calcium based homes. But first, they must choose their location for real estate and claim it! How do they do this? I have another television reference for you – Mork and Mindy. Ah, the loveable alien who shared our screens and brought us his quirky humor. You may recall that he sat upside down on his head. Well, that’s basically how barnacles live – they attach themselves to a solid substrate by basically gluing their heads to it.

I am pretty certain that all of you, underwater mer-people or surface beach-walking mer-people, have seen barnacles. They cover rocks at the beach, especially by the tide pools and the low tide areas. You may have stepped on them and been upset about hurting your foot – their homes can be very sharp. I guarantee you that the barnacle was more upset, because it lost its home, or worse, its life. Please be careful not to step on our friends – that would take a lot of chutzpah (that’s a negative tone for that word in case it was not clear).

Barnacles are crustaceans – they are related to crabs, lobsters, and shrimp. Not all barnacles are the same – there are different types, just like there are different types of crabs. The barnacles in the video below are Northern Rock Barnacles.

I have seen barnacles almost every time that I am in or near the water. I have been looking all year to find them feeding, so that I could see them come out of their homes. I tried, and tried, and tried … but they just wouldn’t come out. I figured they must eat sometime. One day I was at the shore in Connecticut, walked into the cold water, looking intently under kelp and other algae, underneath rock faces, with camera in hand. A gentleman (clearly not a mer-man) was intrigued and asked me what I was doing. I told him that I was looking to find some feeding barnacles. He looked at me weirdly and walked away. Ummm … he was not sharing the joy! Clearly, not a mer-man. Finally, just last month, I was checking out tidepools in Acadia National Park in Maine, and, woo hoo, there they were, feeding in the tidepool. I was sooooooo excited.

They feed by opening their little doors of their homes and sending out their feather-like appendages that filter plankton and other teensy weensy organisms from the water. When they are out feeding, they are really quite pretty. I think that they get over-looked because they are so small. If you imagine them larger, it’s like a group of fan dancers – how beautiful! I hope you enjoy this video (this is not the R-rated part). The barnacles toward the bottom left area of the video are less shy and show themselves most clearly.

Now I’m seeing them everywhere! On a night dive a couple week’s ago, I saw lots of them feeding together. It was so beautiful, like a fan dance, all swaying in the current together. A lot of these barnacles had quite a deal going – they lived on the shell of a hermit crab! Not only did they have a housemate, but they got to travel! Barnacles do not usually get to travel!

On my dive this week, I saw them feeding too. Everywhere I look, there they are now!

Okay – here’s what you’ve been waiting for – the R-rated part. Barnacle sex! Yes, it’s a thing. The sex life of barnacles is quite unique. Let’s start with a huge surprise, no pun intended. A barnacle has one of the longest penises in relation to its size in all of the animal kingdom! Yes, really! Now, I’ve got your interest, don’t I? These are bawdy little fellas! Barney the Bawdy Barnacle!

So does that mean that there are male and female barnacles – yes, and no, and yes, and … they are serial hermaphrodites. What is that you may ask. Well, hermaphrodites are animals that have sex organs of both males and females. Some can reproduce with themselves. But not our mini barnacle friends. They do not have male and female sex organs at the same time … they change over time, sometimes being male, other times being female. They have to mate with another barnacle of the opposite sex (at least at that moment). Well, well, well … how does this animal find a mate if it can’t move around? The temporarily male barnacle (we’ll call him Barney) senses a female nearby (we’ll call her Barnadette). Barney can protrude his relatively record-breaking penis a relatively large distance, as far as several inches, into the female and releases his sperm. Now let’s think about this … Most barnacles are only about 1/4″ ins size, though the Northern Rock Barnacle can grow as big as 2″ (I have not seen a barnacle near that size). So the barnacle penis is over 4 times the length of the size of the largest barnacle bodies! Yup, you learned it here, folks.

After completing their R-rated activities, Barney and Barnadette conceive little baby barnacles who hatch inside Barnadette’s body and hang out for a month or so, then get released into the ocean as little planktonic barna-babies (not a true biological term) before ultimately forming into adults and locating their forever home. What if there is no local lady for Barney to find? Barney is not out of luck for producing progeny. Barney just sends his sperm out into the ocean currents until they reach Bernadette who senses them and catches them. Well, well, well … who knew that barnacle sex was so, ummm, interesting?

The next time that you go to the beach, I hope that you will have a new appreciation for our home-building, fan-dancing, well-endowed mini-friends. Maybe you too will be inspired to create your own stuffed animal barnacle, barnacle artwork, or otherwise celebrate the barnacle!

FYI – sidenote – I was super-psyched in the picture of me that is attached to this post. This was taken in Acadia, and I was IN A TIDEPOOL! Not just looking at it, but IN it. I managed to find a spot that I could get to and sit at without contacting or doing harm to a single little creature. That’s the thing about us mer-people – we find joy in so many ways, both above and below the water!





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