Archive for the ‘chiton’ Category

I was in Seattle over Memorial Day weekend for a wedding, and there was a minus tide Monday morning. I couldn’t resist a chance to see some of the creatures that live in this most beloved habitat of mine. Seattle has a few spots to go tidepooling, but the one closest to where I was staying is Golden Gardens Park. The tide wasn’t that low, so conditions weren’t ideal, but my husband and I saw a bunch of cool stuff nonetheless, including some of my favorite mollusks, chitons! Here’s one of the ones we saw.


I’m going to focus on chitons in this post because there’s some cool chiton news as of late: Chiton eyes! The extra cool thing: they are made of rock, aragonite in particular. They also seem to do more than just sense light and dark: in laboratory conditions, it seemed the chitons can perhaps tell the difference between threatening darkness from a predator’s approach as opposed to darkness caused by a cloud momentarily blotting out the sun. Also cool is that the eyes work either underwater or in air. That seems pretty handy if you happen to be living in the intertidal zone.

Chitons are not the only creatures with rock eyes. Trilobites had rock eyes too. Trilobite eyes were also made of calcium carbonate crystals, but a different crystal formation, namely calcite. Chitons are the first organisms discovered to have aragonite for their rock eyes.

The chitons we saw were mossy chitons, which I believe don’t have eyes, but they fascinating anyway. Here’s another that we saw.


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Life’s tough choices

I’m back from San Francisco, and there will be more about that when I gather it all together, but here’s a cute photo of some public invert-related art I saw while jogging on the Embarcadero.

Meanwhile, I repeat, life has tough choices. This entire weekend, for example, is the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, a competition in which I’ve been an enthusiastically mediocre contestant over the years. On Sunday, there is also a meeting of the New York Paleontological Society, during which there will be a lecture on early molluscan evolution. The talk is by Jakob Vinther, who also authored some of the very cool papers that came out recently about pigment in dinosaur feathers. He thinks there’s evidence that chitons body plans are actually quite derived, and not primitive as other research suggests. I certainly want to hear more about this.

Plus chitons are just so lovely. Here’s an incredible photo of a faceoff (if you could call it that) between a nudibranch and a chiton.

Limacia & Friend
(photo: ken-ichi)

I’m really going to try to go to both tournament and talk on Sunday. Wish me luck with timing and transit.

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Mollusks and fashion

I’ve been thinking about chitons lately, as they are such interesting, different, and unappreciated mollusks. I mean, check this one out!

Loki's Chiton
(photo: ken-ichi)

This was was seen at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, my frequently mentioned mollusk viewing spot of choice. I have some yarn in just about these colors– I think I need to knit me some chiton-inspired socks!

The coolest thing I read in the chiton wiki article is that their teeth are coated with magnetite, which is very unique among animals. Biological occurences of magnetite are often associated with an ability to sense magnetic fields, possibly for navigation purposes (bees and pigeons have magnetite in their brains, for example). Chitons do display homing abilities, so the presence of magnetite is indeed intriguing, but there are certainly mollusks without magnetite in their teeth (limpets, for one) who can also find their groove, so to speak, so it’s an interesting area of study.

Then I got caught up on the etymology of the word. From wiki,

The word chiton appears in the Iliad.[5] In Greek, khitōn could be used to refer not only to a cloth garment covering the skin, but also to other sorts of covering such as a coat of mail, a membrane around a bodily organ, or the pod containing seeds. The Greek word is an adoption from a Central Semitic source (most probably Northwest Semitic, the exact source language not being known) and is akin to the Hebrew word kětōnet ‘tunic’. The Central Semitic word that was the source of Greek khitōn was itself adapted from the Akkadian word kitû, meaning ‘flax’ and ‘linen’. This Akkadian word in turn comes from Sumerian gada (which has the variant gida). The Latin word tunica, source of the English word tunic, is taken from a Phoenician word of kindred origin.

Complicated. That’s the etymology of the Greek costume chiton, which is just a rectangle of fabric arranged into clothing like so

The etymology of the mollusk chiton adds in

The English name “chiton” originates from the Latin word chitōn, which means “mollusc”, and in turn is derived from the Greek word “khitōn”, meaning tunic (which also is the source of the word chitin).

I’m wondering if the when Latin took the word chiton meaning “tunic” and co-opted it for meaning “mollusk,” if they meant the “coat of mail” kind of covering, which makes sense for our mollusk friend the chiton, or the cloth garment/membrane around an organ sense of the word, which would make more sense for something like a nudibranch perhaps. And curious how it all seems to go back to flax and linen, which certainly have nothing to do with coats of mail. Curious!

My next molluscan fashion moment happened last night, when I was jogging in Central Park listening to cheesy pop music. In the song “American Boy,” by Estelle, there’s a lyric that says

Dress in all your fancy clothes,
Sneaker’s looking fresh to death I’m lovin’ those shell toes.
Walkin’ that walk,
Talk that slick talk,
I’m likin’ this American boy, American boy.

It just so happened I was also wearing a shirt from a Run-D.M.C. concert while I was jogging and it was like a double whammy evoking the image of these iconic shoes.

Adidas Superstars, that is. Here’s how Run-D.M.C. rocked them

Here the mollusks clearly were the inspiration for the fashion, right?
Vieira-do-Mediterrâneo // Great Mediterranean Scallop (Pecten jacobaeus)
(photo: Valter Jacinto)

Sometimes the mollusks inpire the fashion, and sometimes the fashion inspires the mollusks, it seems.

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