Monday, February 21, 2011

A Good Day for Echinoderms...

Sand Dollars, Seal Harbor Beach, February 14, 2011 least from the beachcomber's point of view. The echinoderms might not agree.
It was a cloudy grey but relatively warm day in February, probably in the 40s. There was just enough wind to make me glad I had a hat on. I was a little tired of the beaches I've been combing lately (a lot of others are hard to reach this time of year) so I headed over to Seal Harbor after lunch, thinking I would wander for a little while, then go home and get down to work.
There were huge drifts of seaweed on the tide lines, full of crab shells, broken sea urchins, and unbelievable amounts of trash. I started to poke around and was delighted to find a sand dollar. I rarely see them whole.
Then I found another, half-buried in the sand. And another, caught behind a rock. As my eyes adjusted to what I was seeing, I realized that the beach was littered with sand dollars, many still covered in their dark pinkish "fur." (It's really very tiny close-set spines.)
I left those, hoping they might still be alive. It's kind of hard to tell with a sand dollar. I stared at the mouth of one I thought might be alive, but it didn't do anything and the little spines didn't move. It was probably dead, but I put it back anyway. For one thing, it's good karma. For another, dead sea creatures stink stink stink, and you can't clean a sand dollar easily. I prefer mine not just dead but thoroughly scrubbed by the salt water and sand. There were hundreds of sea urchins, too, but mostly broken or unclean, so I only picked up a few. (I still have a whole pile of non-sand-dollar finds from this trip to photograph!)
Sea urchins and sand dollars are both from the family Echinodermata. The sea urchins we have up here are Green Urchins (Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis) and the Sand Dollars are Echinarachnius parma. I've never seen so many sand dollars, dead or alive. Every time I stooped down to reach one, another would catch my eye as I stood up.

When it started to rain two hours later, I went home.


  1. Yes, any sand dollar with spines is alive. When they die, you'll know quickly as the spines start to drop out and they get patchy. Thank you for leaving them!! I live in a place where sand dollars used to be very plentiful, but then people started picking them alive to take home as souvenirs. Sadly, most ended up in the trash since, as you say, rotting things stink.

  2. Hi Adrienne,
    That is so sad! I'm pretty careful not to take live things, for both reasons.

  3. Even the dead ones could use a bit of a bath in boiling water to rid them of that dead smell.

  4. Hi Lynn, that's true. I'm pretty finicky about what I pick up, having learned the hard way how hard it is to get rid of smells. Everything gets a smell test before it goes in the bag! But there are a couple of these I may not keep once I finish photographing them. Most of them just smell faintly of seaweed, which is sort of nice.