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The red bulbous body and long stalk of this solitary sea squirt is often compared with the flowering plant, even though it is an animal. Groups of sea tulips create the image of an underwater garden, especially when seen swaying with the current.
The leathery stalk has horizontal wrinkles, and the main body is covered in a leathery pink test, with six longitudinal grooves. Young specimens have a much whiter test, a row of soft spines and more prominent grooves.
This southern species is restricted to the South Island and Cook Strait. It thrives in areas where there is a strong current.
Found just below the kelp in the low-tidal zone on rocky shores, its range also extends to depths of 30m.
At low tide the siphons are pulled shut and the body appears deflated.
The flexible stalk extends the sea tulip out into high-current areas, where it can filter plankton-rich water.
Although anchored to the bottom, the bulbous body moves freely so that the inhalant siphon is always presented to the oncoming current.
This animal is said to have a piquant flavour. Other sea squirt species are considered a delicacy in Asia, where they are eaten raw, steamed or pickled.
Extract from Collins Field Guide to the New Zealand Seashore by Sally Carson and Rod Morris. Published by Collins, RRP $45.