In previous posts, The color of the Caudal and An Abundance of Orange, I introduced the idea that the surf zone is a colorful place and that color matters to surfperch. There are are other species, however, that lack bright colors and maintain a cryptic presence on the outer shores. Here I feature three species that make a living blending in.
Just about all predators on the outer shores eat the smooth bay shrimp, Lissocrangon stylirostris. You can find them buried just below the surface in open sand at low tide. They are said to use their long antennae to smooth the surface of the sand covering them, but I can’t vouch for that.
Juvenile sand sole, Psettichthys melanostictus, are surely a tasty morsel for predators. They are easy to identify by the free dorsal fin rays; in this photo you can see them – up by the eyes. Milt Love, in his great book Probably More Than You Want to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast, says a 12-incher is about 5 years old. The ones I encounter must be younger than that because they are usually under 10 inches in length. They are only seen close-in during summer. The earliest I’ve seen them is May 5th and the latest is September 5th.
This is the Pacific staghorn sculpin, Leptocottus armatus. As the name implies, they have antler-like spines on the gill covers. If you find yourself handling a staghorn you’ll want to avoid these spines. Staghorn sculpins mature at about 5 inches in length, this one must be just about there. You can learn a little more about the staghorn sculpin by reading my post A Camouflaged Big-Mouth on Summer Shores. Staghorns, like the sand sole, are only abundant on the beaches during summer, usually June – September. So, even though the surf zone is a colorful place for some species, for others, camo rules!