Know your beach-this week from the beach

#4 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Message from Bobby:

A couple of Saturdays ago I was out at Lincoln Park for one of the lowest tides of the season. It was an absolutely beautiful summer day in the PNW. It felt great to be out in the sun and smell the salty air. We had a decent turnout of people coming down to enjoy the low-tide. What really impressed me was how knowledgeable the kids and their parents were that day.

Fellow beach naturalist Diana looks for sea critters with an inquisitive young scientist.

We were not finding anything really big; only a couple of sea stars and just one big anemone. So I turned my sights and camera to one of my favorite little critters, chitons. I like to think of chitons as little pieces of art, especially the lined and woody chitons. They are each so unique in their colors and patterns.

Using a magnifying glass is a great way to see the many details and patterns in chitons.

You can identify most chiton by their eight plates on their back surrounded by a fold of flesh called a girdle. Woody chitons can vary in color from brown to blue to green with additional stripes that resemble wood grain. One way to identify a woody chiton is to look for stiff hairs stemming from light-colored spots on their girdle. Woodys can grow up to 3 inches and can be found on or under rocks in the intertidal and subtidal zones. Woodys eat a variety of algae and diatoms, with their favorite being sea lettuce.

A closeup of a woody chiton’s plates and girdle.

A tiny teal woody chiton moves along the inside of a clam shell.

Two woody chitons move along a rock face.

I thought the color of this woody chiton was beautiful.

Lined chiton look similar to woodys and are just as abundant on our shores. They have some of the most striking lines, zigzag patterns, and colors on their back plates. They are found on rocks with encrusting coralline algae, which is their favorite food. They can grow up to 2 inches long, but most we find are smaller. The lined chiton’s main enemy are purple sea stars.

This tiny lined chiton had a beautiful teal and red pattern on its plates.

A closeup of a lined chiton with teal and orange patterns and a brilliant orange girdle.

Mossy chiton are another type we see often during low-tides. Mossys have shaggy wider girdles and are often seen with barnacles or covered in other organisms. This chiton doesn’t mind staying out of the water during a daytime low-tide, but it will stay put until it is dark and it is back underwater.

A closeup of a mossy chiton with a kelp’s holdfast attached to its plates.

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

About Bobby:

This is Bobby’s third year as a beach naturalist.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle five years ago from San Antonio, Texas.

Bobby is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing his adventures of the Pacific Northwest. During the week you will find him leading a creative team at a large non-profit healthcare company.

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One Response to Know your beach-this week from the beach

  1. Lisa says:

    I really like your post! I also enjoy discovering the beach at low tide when I’m on vacation. And I also love looking at chitons since they are really beautiful! Unfortunately, I am not very close to the sea where I live. Hope this will change someday!

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