Lepas anatifera Linnaeus, 1758
Living Goose (or “Gooseneck”) Barnacles are very odd looking, sci-fi-ish creatures. They have long, dark “necks” (the stalk) and a somewhat triangular white “head” (the body of the crustacean). The “neck” is attached to a hard surface, and it (and the “head”) wave around in a weird, snake-y manner. If these creatures were 10 feet tall, they would be terrifying. As it is, though, the body of the Lepas anatifera (generally found in Southeastern waters), with its protective plates, is no larger than 1½ inches tall, and the stalk only a little taller. Balanus nubilus, a West Coast “resident,” grows up to five inches in height and weighs three pounds or more.
The body of the Goose Barnacle is made up of hard, limy plates. Four of the plates are moveable, and, when open, serve as doors for the feather-like legs to emerge and seek food. These legs fan out, and then are retracted time and time again. Lepas anatifera feeds on plankton, cnidarians (pelagic hydroids), and even small fish.
The Goose Barnacle lives on floating objects or rocks out at sea. Occasionally one of the objects to which the barnacles are attached is washed in. This could be a board, a bottle, or even the snail Janthina. Different species inhabit all seas.
As mentioned, Goose Barnacles are kin to other crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs. When the larger Gooseneck Barnacles are cooked (their long, thin necks are esteemed as a delicacy in some areas), their flavor is said to be a combination of that of shrimp, crab, and lobster. The texture is chewy and soft, like snails, and moist. The Goosenecks are often steamed in their shells above stock or seasoned wine, and served hot at the table. They can also be boiled or grilled, and served hot, cold or at room temperature. Some people like 'em hot with melted butter (like lobster). Others like 'em raw, plain, or with a vinaigrette sauce. To eat a “neck,” peel off the outer skin. — Watch out, often a little squirt of orange liquid spurts out.
People in Spain, Portugal, Chile, Greece, Italy, and Moracco especially appreciate the culinary aspects of the Gooseneck Barnacle, and the creatures are now being farmed commercially in the state of Washington.
One more interesting fact about the Gooseneck: Before around 1100 A.D., because the migratory habits of the Barnacle or Brant goose (Branta leucopsis) were not understood, it was believed that the bird hatched not from an egg, but from the Gooseneck Barnacle. Because of this, the Barnacle geese were designated by Roman Catholic clerics as fish, not fowl, and therefore could be eaten on fast days such as Lent.