By Katherine Pollock
Barnacles are members of the crustacean family related to crabs and shellfish. You may find clusters of the large pink barnacle shells on the beach after a storm. The shells, usually found in clusters, are made up of overlapping plates that are attached together. They form a single volcano shaped cell with which one barnacle can occupy. Sometimes large masses of these shells wash up, giving the beach a pink hue from a distance. You can collect single cells and glue them together if you don’t find large clusters. Be careful to look inside the shells before you keep them, some may still be housing live barnacles. You do not want to mess with these, they will begin to smell bad very quickly. There are plenty of empty shells for collecting.
White acorn barnacles live their adult lives attached permanently to something sturdy. They secrete a cement type glue to adhere themselves to a substrate where they will live out their lives. Their natural glue excretion is some of strongest found in nature. You can find large colonies of them on jetties. The surf brings plankton and oxygen to them with the moving tides and they filter the water with feathery looking legs. Goose barnacles are usually white shells with a wormlike neck. They are also in large colonies attached to tree limbs or other wrack. If they are in the surf you can observe them feeding. They squirm around and open the shells if undisturbed. Don’t try to take these barnacles home. If it’s attached to a surface, there is still something inside.
Barnacles live in large colonies for a reason. Since they can’t move barnacles need to mate with their closest neighbor. They accomplish this with the aid of having both sex organs. This assures the survival of the colony. The larva leaves the shells and swims around as plankton until adulthood. The large masses of them helps to assure that some of them will survive. Their greatest threats are some shore birds, sheepshead and of course, polluted water. Oil spills top the charts of colony killers.
I have collected someof the pink barnacles and cleaned them with a light bleach solution and put them in my fish tank. A quarter cup of bleach per gallon of water is plenty.Too much bleach will remove the pink color from the shells.
Some pet shops I have visited say not to put anything found on the beach in your fish tank but I have never had a problem with it. Pet shops sell the same barnacle clusters for about $20 for a grapefruit size bunch. I’m sure they have been well cleaned and may be worth that.
On a good day I have collected two fi ve-gallon buckets of them in less than an hour. If you do want to try putting them in your fish tank,do so with caution. Don’t just toss them in with your favorite expensive fi sh without knowing the risk.
With the oil in the Gulf its quite possible to have lot more barnacles washing up than usual. Only time will tell