Beach Hoppers Rejoice Over Drift Macrophytes

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From a foredune vantage the beach, drift line, and breakers are hidden by fog

A foggy morning with low visibility and muted colors and sounds. Under these conditions you’ll find more action down at your feet than off in the distance. On this morning the air was still and warm. Sunrise added little more than glare and from the foredune the atmosphere was as oppressive as the view was cheerless. I couldn’t have known that down on the beach there was a party going on. A beach hopper party.

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Beach hoppers, Megalorchestia, feasting on the carcass of a smooth bay shrimp, Lissocrangon stylirostris

Beach hoppers get pretty excited about any organic material in the drift line. Below, you can see their workings along an old bull kelp stipe.

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Beach hopper workings in the sand along the edges of an old bull kelp stipe

On this mid-September morning beach hoppers had plenty to be happy about. The previous day had seen enough rain to raise river levels, which washed some fall eelgrass out to sea. By 2:30 am, high tide had pushed some of it onto the beach. A band of eelgrass dominated the drift line for three miles north of the estuary. The beach hoppers rejoiced.

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Beachcast eelgrass, Zostera, stretching into the distance

Much of the mobilized material was dead and dying eelgrass, but there where some fresh clumps too, and a little macro algae. Up close it doesn’t look like much, but beach hoppers like it.

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Clump of eelgrass, Zostera, in the drift line

Fall is a season when a lot of organic material from estuarine and subtidal ecosystems gets transported onto the beach. The beach hoppers are ready for it. They depend upon it. The new material featured in this post brought out so many hoppers I couldn’t resist taking a video. I’ve posted it below. A warning up front, I took this video in portrait layout so it won’t fill your screen. It’s my first video, an experiment for sure, but timing is everything on theoutershores so I feel like it’s worth posting.

In case you’re not familiar with beach hoppers, I featured two common Oregon hoppers in California Beach Hopper, Megalorchestia californiana and The Pale Beach Hopper, Megalorchestia columbiana. I also wrote a few words about beach hoppers and beachcast kelp in An Ordinary Beachcast Kelp.

This eelgrass event occurred on on September 18, 2016. If you want to see some other things I encountered along the drift line that morning go to Wrack Line 2016.