When on our BIOL 326 field trip to Bamfield, our class when to Brady’s Beach to look at the rocky intertidal habitats and the amazing sea life there. Needless to say I had a blast, but one of the most memorable things I believe that happened was the licking of the sea anemones.
I have to admit, the entire time I was in Bamfield, poking the anemones never got old. Having them stick to your finger and then watching the, retract was extremely amusing, in the same way as giving your dog a Mohawk. You know it has to be annoying for the animal, but it’s just too fun.
How they stick to your skin is also super fascinating. They have cells called nematocytes, or cnidocytes which help them catch prey or defend from predators. The cells have a capsule which contains a spring loaded harpoon-like structure (called a nematocyst) and a thread than contains toxins. If something touches the trigger, the lid to the capsule pops open and the nematocyst fires out along with the thread.
The beautiful thing is our skin is thick enough that we don’t feel anything, just the pull when we lift our fingers, and the toxin of anemones are not strong enough do anything, so all weekend I poked.When on Brady’s Beach, I poked many an anemone, and while another student and I were enjoying the activity immensely, we asked the professor, “If we had thinner skin, would this hurt more?” He responded with, “You can always try licking it, since the skin on your tongue is much thinner.”
What we didn’t know is that he had already given that advice to some other students, who then promptly stuck their faces in the water and wiggle their tongues around to poke at the anemones. I was too chicken to try this because as I child I had a traumatic experience when I licked a cold metal post in the winter and when I pulled it off, it hurt. My tongue is too sensitive for such activities.
It wasn’t until a couple hours later when we were back at Bamfield Marine Science Centre, sitting a lecture hall that I was glad I didn’t attempt such a feat when two of the student who licked the anemones still had sore tongues.
Although if I were to come across the opportunity again to lick one, I might try it just to say I have, then I can join this exclusive club of “anemone-lickers”. But who know.
The question is, would you lick an anemone?