Resembling tempting jelly sweets, these fascinating creatures cling to rocks, hide under stones, bury themselves in sand and mud or attach to plants and even hermit crabs. The commonest, the beadlet (Actinia equina) is found from the mid-tide mark to low water. As soon as the tide retreats it retracts and becomes a blob of shiny green, red or sometimes almost blue firm jelly. All of these colours seem to be one single species. Less varied but very striking is the Strawberry beadlet, easily identified by the light spots on a red body making it look like the fruit. It prefers the lower beach but when the tide retreats it is often found hanging from the rocks (not as firm as the common) it flops down. Again, this species retracts its tentacles.
Two other species are common, the snakelocks (Anemonia viridis) and the gem (Aulactinia verrucosa). Snakelocks does not retract its tentacles, it is normally found in water but on a low tide, it can be exposed to the air and then it looks like a sloppy mass of tentacles and jelly. They range from light brown to green and often have bright purple tips. This is due to a associated symbiotic algae, this is photosynthetic and so often the anemone is in well-lit locations. It also grows on seaweeds resembling a straggly petalled flower. The gem is often found in the sand, it likes to bury itself and often only the tentacles show. These are very colourful thumbnail sized creatures and easily identified by the white stripes running down the column.
Anemones are mobile and they can detach and drift or manoeuvre over the substrate. This has been observed as a strategy to reduce competition as they do fight for prime locations. The beadlets are particularly aggressive and they have specialised cells around the rim below the tentacles, these acrorhagi are packed with toxins and can cause injury to others. To us, this is more of a sticky sensation, the specialised stinging cells are ineffective on our skin.
Anemones reproduce in a variety of ways, some brood internally, some discharge into the sea, some bud. This budding process can be either longitudinal or transverse, it is species-specific. They can be very long-lived and in aquariums 65 years has been recorded. They are carnivorous creatures, grabbing anything that touches the tentacles, even trying to engulf large fish if they can squeeze it into the elastic mouth opening. The symbiotic nature of having algae in their cells suggests they use products from photosynthesis, sugars and possibly oxygen in return for shelter, this is a fascinating concept that we really should study fully. Imaging just having to sit in the sun and food flows into you, bliss.