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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Mermaid's Purses

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas DECEMBER. 27, 2020

[144-365] 27th. December 2020- We've obviously had visitors overnight as I found two mermaid's purses in the front garden this morning. What mermaids were doing in the garden overnight I'm not sure but the evidence is clear. Also why did they have their purses out as the shops were shut at that time of night. Where do they keep their purses anyway? Do they have zippers in their flippers?

I can only assume that they were taking refuge from the stormy seas and high winds that we had overnight. Very strong gusts after midnight blowing up the creek that certainly brought the usual leaves and occasional bits of seaweed but never mermaids, not until now.

They are amazing things and are a bit like a double ended stag beetle.

They are more correctly described as the egg cases of skates and catsharks. They often appear in stormy weather but normally on beaches not in front gardens, especially when we are so far from open sea. Last night the wind was westerly so they were no doubt disturbed out at sea, floated in on the high tide and when they reached the end of the creek got caught by the wind and rolled up the road and up our driveway to land up under my front window. From my research these are more likely from skate rather than sharks or dogfish as theirs are longer and narrower with long tendrils at the tips.

Evolution is an amazing process and you can see how these would happily get well caught up in seaweed under water where they can sit happily for up to a year before hatching, unless in stormy weather they or the seaweed is dislodged. I believe these are hatched pods as there is no obvious sign of any life inside. I also think if they had still had any life inside they would have been heavier and less likely to blow up the road.

What brings tears to your eyes though is imagining what it must be like to lay an egg that shape, which reminds me of the old Christmas cracker joke from the TV show The Good Life Christmas Special. "Why is the Ooooooh Aaaaah bird so called? Because it lays square eggs". That really is how good, cracker jokes get.

Once the fish is in this egg case and deposited in a bed of seaweed that is it. Skates and sharks are not known for their parenting skills. They move on and find some lunch. They don't decorate a new nursery or buy car seats or move house to get an extra bedroom. They certainly don't become school governors or have to attend sports days or Nativity plays. If as a young skate you get as far as actually emerging from one of these pods alive rather than ending up desiccated on someone's driveway after a particularly rough night, you need to grow up quickly, no molly coddling for you. No being driven around to after school clubs or taken to sleepovers or to ballet lessons. You need to find lunch fast and avoid becoming lunch even faster. No tantrums, or sulking, no narcissistic posturing or anti social behaviour no counselling or micro aggressions, this is real life. Lunch or be lunch, that is the question, and it has been for about 150 million years, probably longer, as that is how old the oldest fossil is, but cartilaginous fish are notoriously difficult to form into fossils so in all likelihood they go back further than we have evidence for.

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