Flithers is the local vernacular for limpets, the common limpet, patella vulgata, is to be found in abundance here in Staithes. The limpets design, it’s streamline shape and very powerful clinging foot, is idea in allowing it to survive the pounding of the waves. The limpets ability to cling on is legendary, how many of us remember as children trying to dislodge these shells from the rocks when we wanted to use them as bait to go crabbing with..? They hold onto the rocks with a force of 75lb/sq.in.
What do limpet’s eat..?
Limpets are herbivores feeding on microscope algae. They scrape their ‘tongue’, called a radula, over the rocks surface, the teeth on the radula actually leave marks on the rocks where the algae has been scraped off. The limpets grazing prevents seaweed establishing itself so preventing the larger seaweeds taking over the whole of the foreshore. After an oil spill and it’s clean up operation many rocks quickly become covered in a green algae, sea lettuce and gut weed, because limpets are very susceptible to oil pollution.
Each limpet has it’s own spot where it comes to rest when it’s not feeding. This spot is created by the action of the limpet ‘grinding’ itself back into place at the end of a feeding foray. When the limpet sets off to feed on algae on the nearby rocks it leaves a trail of mucus behind so it is sure to find it’s way ‘home’ again.
The video shows limpets feeding over a six hour period and is condensed into six seconds, if you watch the larger limpet in the lower right of the screen you can see it fitting it’s self back into it’s own spot. On the limpets death this grinding action actually leaves a visible mark on the rocks.
A limpet’s sex life..!
Limpets, like many other molluscs, have the ability to change sex. For the first year of a common limpets life they are all neuter, they then spent the next four to seven years as males, after that about 30-35% change into females. Try imaging the book ‘Men are from Mars Women are from Venus’ applied to limpets…!
The historical use of flithers in Staithes.
Returning to use the local word flither. Most fishermen depended on their wives, daughters and other older members of the family to bait and skane the lines with mussels. However, when mussels were in short supply flithers were used even though they were considered inferior to mussels. Flithers were collected from the scaurs by young girls and to keep them fresh they were packed between layers of seaweed. The search for limpets took the young girls many long, cold and wet miles from Staithes.
First, taking the chance of upsetting some foragers out there, let us say we are not going to be making soup with them, the scene in ‘Crocodile Dundee’ comes to mind where he hands her a bark plate with grubs and creepy crawleys on, and after she’s tried some/one ? he says ‘ well you can live on them but they taste like s…t? So, no… we’re not going to suggest you make soup out of them, in fact we only use the empty shells left behind after the limpets have finished with them. So choose to spend a day with us on one of our Ancient Paint Palette Day Courses and you will be using empty limpet, sorry we should we say empty flither shells as paint palettes.