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Mystery Beach Creature Is Just a Delightfully Freakish Clump of Barnacles

Goose barnacles only look like aliens.

When beachgoers at Hartland Abbey in Devon, England, recently discovered a huge, fleshy, tubular mass washed up on the rocks, their first reaction, understandably, was to imagine they had stumbled on some kind of mysterious creature, perhaps unknown to science. But the truth—as usual—is both more mundane and more interesting. The clumps are just some adorably named barnacles that arrived on some driftwood.

As explained in a story on Earth Touch News, goose barnacles usually grow in tropical climates, but they can drift to coasts all over the world, like this bunch that washed up in New Zealand a year ago.

Also called gooseneck barnacles, they attach themselves to hard objects—as many other barnacles do. But, as their name implies, these crustaceans are distinguished by thick, fleshy, neck-like stalks. (At one point in the Middle Ages, it was thought that certain geese actually developed from these barnacles—hence the name.) When they amass in large groups, they create a shaggy, alien mass that certainly looks like it shouldn’t exist.

Gooseneck barnacles in Thailand.
Gooseneck barnacles in Thailand. Tom Page, Aurevilly/Public Domain

The barnacles that washed up on the Hartland Abbey beach had almost completely encrusted a long piece of driftwood. Lára Clarke-Wardle, who first discovered the barnacle bunch, thought for a moment that she had found a new species. What she really found is a just another reminder that our world has always been much stranger than we give it credit for.