SALUTE TO THE BARNACLE
COME time ago a reader wrote to rebuke me. It was a gentle rebuke, charmingly worded, but it was none the less definite. She complained that
I wrote of birds and trees and animals that everybody knew about; couldn't I tell THE CATHOLIC HERALD readers about creatures that weren't esopopular but probably just as inter stigThe challenge had added a zest to everyday life: I found myself constantly on the look-out for something unusual.
Then suddenly I met them, face (?) to face, thousands of them, at low tide, on the piles of a pier. Here, obviously, was a subject worthy of the attention of the most exacting reader, for when one comes to inyestigate its life history, what is there more unusual, more astonishing, than a barnacle?
I wished I could have taken one of these home with me to examine at close quarters, but the whole point of a barnacle is that one can't.
CLINGING in their thousands to rocks or piles or the keels of ships, these tiny, immovable creatures have been a source of speculation throughout the centuries, and in medieval days gave rise to that wildest of all myths that they were "minute shells each containing a tiny wild goose, attached to the log by its beak. which portentous fowls in process of time became covered with feathers . . . and dived into the sea." And we still speak of "Barnacle Geese."
Cuvier, the great 18th century anatomist, failed to solve their mystery, and it fell to an army surgeon to discover that barnacles were, in reality, crustaceans, whose young had complete freedom of movement, six legs apiece, feathery tails and two fine large eyes. Darwin made them the subject of a monograph that took him close on eight years to finish.
NOW, of course, there is a mass of information about this amazing form of life, available to anybody sufficiently interested to look it up, and those who want it served out to them in readable-not to say exciting -form, should get Gilbert Klingel's recently published The Bay (Gollancz, 12s. 6d.), in which he describes, among a host of other marine wonders, "barnacles in the waters of Chesapeake Bay."
He tells of the curious changes that
take place before the adult stage is reached, the young, segmented. transparent creature undergoing a succession of moults and with each one becoming more and more shrimplike. Then suddenly it acquires two pannier-like shells, and a little later settles on its back with six legs "looking like so many curled feathers"
waving n the air. Because of these legs scientists gave it the name of cirriped, or feathery-footed.
THESE feet, interlaced, form a net 1 in which the barnacle not only catches its food hut also acquires oxygen, for, in Klingel's own words: "As we human beings depend upon our efficiently shaped hands to provide our nourishment, build our homes and fulfil our many tasks, so the barnacle depends on its feet."
He points out that the barnacle, so sedentary and inert, is a world traveller, booking its passage on tramp steamers, whales and even flying fish, shutting out, by means of a neat little device resembling our more clumsily constructed sliding doors, all unwelcome intruders, and retaining by the same means the moisture it needs.
I salute the barnacle. And I hope
that my reader, provoked into reading of this and a myriad other undersea wonders in The Bay, will soon do the same.