Bird Island, NC
Cherry Grove Beach, SC
Edisto Island, SC
Ocean Isle Beach, NC
Sanibel Island, FL


Special Sunset Beach Web Page

Copyright 2008 Jo O'Keefe All Rights Reserved

Nearly every other day I walk on the east end of Sunset Beach. Each day my walk is more joyful. I talk with many children and parents interested in the animals I collect. They ask about other animals that they have seen, especially now the Cownose rays. They ask if the rays are skates or stingrays and if the rays could hurt them. They ask about the scores of dead Cannonball Jellyfish. We cover one topic after another. The children like crabs. Because I have access to and begin my walk on the opposite side of the island where tourists do not go, I collect sand fiddler crabs at the beginning of my walk to show children later. It is delightful to see their excitement when crabs walk on their hands or on the sand. I bring a bag with a few empty whelk shells, whelk egg cases and baby whelks and some sandwich bags. I explain the whelk life cycle to people and then give them some baby whelks in a sandwich bag along with several egg capsules, each of which contains up to two dozen immature whelk shells. If we continue walking together, I find item after item, inadvertently showing them how to find marine animals hidden under the sand. Soon I am with another family. One day when I began to walk I picked up a badly broken shell in Jinks Creek. I suspected that a Striped Hermit Crab was in it. After I photographed the girls below and then approached to meet them, I told them about the "poor" hermit crab. I put an empty whelk shell in my bucket. Within 90 seconds the hermit crab in the broken shell had checked out the whelk shell and moved into it. We were amazed! Since then I have carried spare shells to enable many visitors to watch hermit crabs change shells.

Absorbed in books
girl with hermit crab
sea anemone
A young girl with a hermit crab in a yellow periwinkle shell next to her yellow toe nail polish
I saw a lump and uncovered this sea anemone.
boy with sand fiddler crab
boy with sand fiddler crab
A five-year-old boy with a Sand Fiddler Crab
Striped Hermit Crab on Girl's Hand
Rhinoptera bonasus
Rhinoptera bonasus
Rhinoptera bonasus
Rhinoptera bonasus
Cownose Rays -- Rhinoptera bonasus
Searching through seaweed and microscope photos

During my beach walks I collect certain types of seaweed. The best are bryozoans -- actually animals -- because they host many other animals, particularly worms. Within the items I collect are scores of minute animals. After I return home, I inspect each piece of seaweed. I extract worms for a worm specialist at NC State University in Raleigh, NC. I find brittle stars and, for the first time yesterday, sea stars. Scores of amphipods as thin as thread and 1/32 to 1/16 of an inch long cling to my fingers. I touch ocean water in a Petrie dish to free them. Among what I think are amphipods are shrimp too small to see, isopods and even the scaleworm shown below. I am extracting small shells, some so tiny that I can only feel them. Many host hermit crabs. I freeze or preserve in alcohol the specimens for researchers. I save the mollusks -- sea shells -- for myself.

Last week I visited my marine biologist friend at NC State University while I was in Raleigh. for medical appointments. I hurriedly thawed bags of minute animals that I had saved for her. We saw amazing animals through her powerful microscope. Although I can see some of them with my naked eye and others through my microscope, seeing them through her microscope was tremendous.

You too can find seaweed and search through it for animals. Take Ziplock bags to the beach. Keep the seaweed moist with ocean water. Back home, use a bright light. Set out several small dishes with a bit of ocean water in each into which to separate the types of animals that you find. You will be astonished at what you discover.

Unfortunately, I have not learned how to take good photos through my microscope. Here are some photos from the last few days.

sea star
sea star
Sea Star, live, 1/8 inch in diameter, photographed at one second on the left and one-half second on the right
sea star
sea star
This is the same sea star, dead and dried -- oral side on the right
sea star
This is a larger sea star 1/4 inch in diameter
brittle star
brittle star
Brittle Star, first Note: if an animal does not fit in my frame, it is at least 1/4 inch wide. I can only capture images less than 1/4 inch wide.
Brittle Star, second, oral side
brittle star
brittle star
Brittle Star, third, oral side
Brittle Star, fourth, dried
Brachidontes exustus
Epitonium and Mitrella lunata
A minute intact Scorched Mussel nestled inside half of another bivalve
Epitonium sp -- Wentletrap -- in the center with a Mitrella lunata -- Lunar Dovesnail -- on its left
newborn knobbed whelks
newborn pear whelks
Newborn Knobbed Whelks
Busycotypus spiratus -- Pear Whelk
newborn channeled and pear whelks
sharp nassa
L: 2 Busycotypus canaliculatu -- Channeled Whelk; R: 2 Busycotypus spiratus -- Pear Whelk
Nassarius acutus -- Sharp Nassa
Worm head
Amphipod -- ghost shrimp
terebellid polychaete
terebellid polychaete
terebellid polychaete also known as a spaghetti worm Three days ago an eight-year-old girl and I sat on the sand at the end of my walk tearing apart sea squirts. I had found a large mass of them. She found worm after worm, including several spaghetti worms. When she found one, she would shout, "Here's another spaghetti worm!" Because we were finding innumerable mollusks, I taught her about gastropods and bivalves. We found many tiny crabs. When I saw her and her family several days later, they reported excitedly said that the hermit crabs that they had been keeping since I gave them to them were still alive. They were changing the ocean water frequently. They understood that they needed to release them before leaving for home.
Nudibranch, front -- a mollusk with an internal shell
Special thanks to Gayle Plaia, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, Kristian Fauchald, Smithsonian Institution, and Harry Lee, Second Vice-President of the Jacksonville Shell Club, for assistance in identifying specimens