Wildlife quiz: the answer!

EnigmaThank you to everyone who had a guess as to what on earth this alien-looking object was.

It is, in fact, the mouth parts of a sea urchin.  Well done to those of you who were very close, and in particular to Colin at The Scottish Aeneas, who was spot on!

Colin (not the same one, I mean my husband!) found it on the beach below Dunnottar Castle and photographed it in situ before bringing it back as a very interesting souvenir.  I believe the species is the Common (or Edible) sea urchin, Echinus esculentus – but if I’m wrong, please correct me!

I must admit that I would have been hard pushed to identify it.  Nature can be stranger than fiction!

Here is a photo of the sea urchin on the beach;   you can see the mouth parts in the middle, pointing downwards.  The complex structure consists of calcium plates, muscles and connective tissue;  it was first described by Aristotle, and it is also known as ‘Aristotle’s lantern’.  (You can read more about it on this page from the Natural History Museum.)  The five ‘teeth’ are self-sharpening, and as the animal feeds they have an erosive action that is capable of grinding rock into sand.

Photos copyright © Colin Woolf

Sea Urchin


  1. Aha! I forgot to hazard a guess on the other post but I did wonder about it. All I could guess what that it was something from a beach but I must admit I had no idea what it could be. I’m going to try this out on other people and see if anyone gets it. Thank you for the solution to the mystery!

    • It’s a fascinating object! I’m sure you’ll baffle quite a few people with it. It will be a challenge to think of anything else along these lines, as good as this!

  2. I have never heard about sea urchin. This is interesting.
    I will look forward for more wildlife quizzes, even if, to be honest, I’m not so good.

    • I’m glad you found it interesting! I will have to think of some more! 😀

      • Hi Jo

        I would love to use Colin’s photo of the Aristotle’s lantern in educational signage at a not-for-profit education centre in South Africa. Please could you let me know if he would be willing to help us out.

      • Dear Heidi, Of course and thank you for asking! Could you just credit Colin Woolf, my husband, alongside the pic? Delighted to help. Can you take it from my website or would you like me to email it over? Kind regards, Jo

      • Thanks so much Jo! I managed to find an Aristotle’s lantern inside an urchin skeleton which is actually more what we were looking for as it helps the kids to understand where the strange thing came from. I really appreciate your willingness to help us though, thank you.

  3. Eek, silly me! I now see the original page with the AL inside the shell. Please could you email it to me. Thanks very much!

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