top of page
  • Writer's pictureCarol Ann Ross

By Any Other Name

One of my favorite critters to find on the beach is the lonely, ugly, yet unique Sea Urchin, most commonly called the pin cushion. Without its many spines spiraled about its squashy body, it does most certainly resemble one of the old fashioned pin cushions my momma used when sewing. That name, the pin cushion came about I suppose by that resemblance. Like so many shells and critters of the sea, humans have given them names that are familiar and identifiable.

For example, the shells that look like lion’s paws are really a type of scallop. Shark’s Eye and Baby’s Ear are types of snails that feed along the bottom of the ocean. The sea cucumber-well, if you’ve seen one, you’ll understand the name. All of these shells and sea critters have long complicated scientific names, but like I said earlier, the familiar names make it easier.

One of the most unique critters found on the beaches around here is the skate egg sack, now called the mermaid’s purse. When I was a kid, we called them devil’s shopping bags. They were black (still are)and spooky looking (still are).Actually, the old name seems much more appropriate, but hey, putting pretty names on ugly stuff is the thing these days.

But I digress, this little article is about the pin cushion, the sea urchin, which is fascinating as all get out. In my search to find info, talking with folks, reading, remembering-I found out the following: there are over 900 species of sea urchins, they live on the floor of every ocean on the planet and exist at every depth. Their spine length varies from an inch to 12 inches. I guess, they are a lot like people-takes all kinds.

Pin Cushions eat mostly algae and their predators are mainly starfish, crabs, trigger fish, sheephead, otters and lobsters. Of course there is always man. Folks in Japan serve them up quite often. They are usually eaten by cutting the bottom end of the urchin off (the under part where the mouth is) spooning out the innards and eating them raw.(yuck!) However, some people do fry or saute them.

Of course, this so ugly it’s cute sea critter, seems harmless. But their population has been known to cause great damage to kelp beds where they graze for food. Introduction of otters into the scene has helped here.

I always feel it’s a treat or another gift from God when I find these critters at my bare feet. And though they may be stinky for a few days upon my back porch sill, they mellow out and become decorations and reminders of what I love best out of Topsail Island.



bottom of page