Sea potatoes are real, not delicious, and on an English beach

Also known as heart urchins, it's a bit of a mystery why hundreds of them have washed up on a Penzance beach
sea potatoes Okay, who didn't clean up the potato salad after their beach picnic? (© Tosca Weijers |

Wherrytown beach in Penzance in south west England has been invaded. Not by pirates, but by ... potatoes?

Sea potatoes, to be precise.

These tennis ball-sized marine creatures are also known as heart urchins and are cousins of other urchins and starfish. Their shells—called tests—are covered in yellowish spines that kind of look like a fur. Normally, these unassuming little critters bury themselves about half a foot in the sandy sea floor. Sort of like real potatoes. Except that as animals, they feed on stuff, mainly the remains of creatures that have fallen to the sea floor.

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And yeah, that's pretty much it. So what are they doing by the hundreds on some English beach?

The Potatoes of Penzance

That's a pretty good question. Even this pup is curious...

Well, we sort of have an answer...

According to an interview with Mashable, Martin Attrill, an ecology professor at the University of Plymouth, says that "the exact cause is not completely certain. Often a cause can be unusual storms that impact at a time of year when they aren’t often expected."

He also mentions that the "wrecks" of other creatures, such as crabs and lobsters, can wash up on beaches. One can imagine how a strong enough storm could 'dig up' a bunch of these sea potatoes and plant the poor swimmers helplessly on a beach. In addition, most of them are just dried shells, so obviously at the mercy of the waves.

We actually think that one of those shells would be a cool thing to keep in our home. That star pattern is neat! Pretty sure that a few beachgoers in England are going to have the same idea over the next while...

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