Beachcombing is especially fun when one stumbles across something new and unusual. These odd little red wine-colored gumdrops clinging to this coastal rocky outcropping are known as beadlet anemones (Actinia equina) and are found in various intertidal regions of the world including the central coast of Ecuador. The anemones I saw in the past were doughnut-shaped with retracted tentacles that were more visible, so anemones did not immediately come to mind when I saw these along the Manabi coast. When exposed to air, beadlet anemones retract their tentacles completely to conserve moisture and protect themselves. Underwater, their plant-like tentacles resembles succulent leaves.
Sea anemones are unusual creatures belonging to the invertebrate Cnidaria phylum. Cnida, also known as nematocysts, are stinging cells characteristic of animals in the Cnidaria phylum, which includes jellyfish and corals. These stinging mechanisms are used for protection and to stun and capture prey.
Beadlet anemones are aggressive little creatures that are easily provoked. A mere brush of another anemone’s tentacle will cause the anemone to expose specialized surface protrusions, known as acrorhagi or blue beads, which release stinging cells (nematocysts) as soon as they come into contact with their neighbor. This attack is often repeated until the beadlet anemone’s neighbor drops off the rock. Visible wounds appear as a result of such attacks.
These soft gelatinous polyps are carnivores and scavengers, eating crustaceans such as small crabs and copepods as well as dead larvae and crustacean remains. Beadlet anemones are found in the northeastern part of the Atlantic and in waters with a minimum salinity of 2.8% and temperatures ranging from 2˚F to 28˚C.