A Splattering of Barnacles

One of the interesting trivialities that has infiltrated the English language is the wide assortment of words that refer to multiple groupings of animals and other things.

Some of these—schools of fishes, flocks of birds, pods of whales, prides of lions—are well known, and we tend to take them for granted. Others, however—smack of jellyfishes, squadron of pelicans and rumpus of apes—are rather obscure and almost seem unnecessary. Sometimes, although not always, there is a logical history behind these terms. For instance, since the lion was supposedly the “king of beasts,”
how appropriate to call several lions together a “pride.”

Nevertheless, not all animals have been so honored with such special jargon. Small marine creatures are often neglected, and are thus called by some general, catch-all term.

As has occurred with barnacles. Yet most barnacles are far more into group living than are lions or jellyfishes. But, alas, even when found in large concentrations, barnacles are just said to be in clumps, crowds, groups, or aggregations.

How utterly charmless. And besides, these generic terms do nothing to convey any of the attributes of these fascinating animals. There should be a better term for these critters, at least for some species. Like a “splattering of barnacles”?

Maybe. After all, there are several species of California barnacles that do resemble tiny bits of mud or paint that has just been splattered all over rocks, pier piling, mussel beds, the backs of limpet shells and even on top of other barnacles.

Often, there are several species in such a splattering, but they are all simply called “buckshot barnacles.” This common name emphasizes both their smallness and how they are randomly spread all over the place. The lumping of species together is actually quite logical and not just on account of laziness, because to people who have only a smattering of barnacle knowledge, the different barnacles do look pretty much alike. Even experts on barnacles can only definitely distinguish them by dislodging them from their solid footing and, under magnification, looking at how their tiny calcium carbonate plates are arranged.

Of the two main buckshot barnacles, Chthalamus fissus has six plates that are more or less equally sized, with the two-end ones both inside the side pairs. Balanus glandula has one of its end plates that is considerably larger and is outside the side ones. And another, sometimes slightly larger barnacle, Tetraclita squmosa, that can often be found amidst the smaller buckshots, has only four plates, with one of the end plates outside the side ones, the other inside.

Many splatterings of buckshot barnacles live in the tidal area call the “splash zone.” This area, as the name implies is splashed—or splattered—by waves during the highest of the high tides. So when the little animals do receive some seawater, they must grab whatever food they can, as quickly as they can. The splatterings of barnacles that are farther down the tidal zone area able to feed more at leisure, but that doesn’t cause them to grow any bigger than their standard 1/4 to 1/2 inch wide.

Any diver who tries to ignore the presence of buckshot barnacles on a rock and sits on them may end up sputtering a bit when their hard shells rip open his or her wetsuit (if that person happened to be wearing more than a swim suit, or else the sputtering will be intensified quite a bit). And boat owners often sputter at splatterings of buckshot barnacles that cement themselves to the bottoms of boats.

Along many sections of the California rocky shore, buckshot barnacles are the most abundant of all the animals to be found. They really are worthy of more attention than they get—even if they are yet to join the ranks of the animals with their own special collection noun.

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