SOUNDS OF NATURE – Limpets on rocks Clashnessie

September 15th 2023

Sounds of Nature Project

This Project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Scottish Natural Heritage

SOUNDS OF NATURE – Limpets on rocks, Clashnessie

The Field Club’s Sounds of Nature Project was inspired by a chance encounter in May 2019 between two Assynt Field Club members and Clive Davis who was holidaying in Assynt. Clive, who is a member of the Wildlife Sound Recording Society, was making sound recordings of birds, etc. in the area.

The mental health benefits of listening to bird song and other sounds of nature have been well reported.  Our website is by necessity very visual, both with regards to images and words. The main aim of our project therefore is to make the site, and hence Assynt’s wildlife, more accessible and meaningful for those with a visual impairment.

More information about the project along with links to other recordings can be found on the website’s Sounds of Nature Project page

SOUNDS OF NATURE – Limpets on rocks Clashnessie (David Haines, September 2023)

We didn’t really know if this recording for our Sounds of Nature Project would be possible. It has taken several attempts, but we seem to have captured something for you to listen to. Actually maybe something very different!

You may well have encountered limpets clamped tightly to rocks in rockpools. They can often be the largest shell present and are conical in shape. Depending on their age they might be covered with much smaller barnacles and might be fluted or quite smooth.

They anchor themselves to ‘their’ rock in the same place every time they return from a feeding trip. Limpets graze the rock surface for algae which they remove with their incredibly tough tongue. As the tide starts to drop they return home by following a trail of mucus deposited earlier. The home spot may have been used for so long that the edge of the limpet’s shell can scribe an outline in the rock. This home scar helps the limpet attach itself more securely to the rock and prevent it drying out until the tide covers it again.

The limpets use a large circular muscle to grip the rock so it is very important that you do not try to remove a limpet. Doing so will almost certainly damage this muscle and result in the death of the animal.

Recording and photos

Back to the sound recording. Although limpets are securely attached to rocks at low tide they keep a bit of extra grip in reserve, just in case! This can be used if a bird tries to wedge the limpet off the rock when looking for a meal. The muscle contracts and pulls the shell even tighter to the rock.

We visited the large rock that sits in Clashnessie Bay to see if we could record the sound produced when this bit of extra grip was applied. First the microphone was placed next to many individual limpets. Next we gently touched the top of their shells. This has allowed us to record the sound produced when the edge of the shell compresses against the rock and/or tiny grains of sand caught between the shell and rock are crushed.

Visually showing this was just as big a challenge. Another visit was required as we had ‘compressed’ lots of the limpets when recording the sounds. The same process would have to be followed to try and get a photo! From around 100 photos of 30 or 40 limpets one showed the change quite clearly. A small red grain of sand was standing upright between the shell and its rock. A light tap on the shell and the limpet had ‘crushed’ the sand which was now lying on its side.

The recording

This sound file is slightly less than 3 minutes long and is mixed from numerous recordings.

Waves crashing around the rock and people and vehicles in the background can be heard. However, quite regularly you should also clearly hear sounds like a salt or pepper mill being ground, those are produced by the limpets gripping more tightly.

You might like to use headphones to get the best effect!

SOUNDS OF NATURE – Limpets on rocks Clashnessie

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