To most of our touch pool visitors, the gumboot chiton is an unfamiliar, mysterious creature. A mantle—thick, leathery, and brick-red—hides the chiton’s eight shell plates and its muscular foot, which anchors the gumboot to a rock. Unlike other chitons that can cling tightly, the gumboot is easily dislodged and may be washed ashore during storms.
To touch a gumboot is to feel the fuzzy texture of about 20 species of red algae that live on the mantle and give the gumboot its brick-red color. The gumboot also eats red algae, which probably adds to its color as well.
The gumboot uses its tonguelike radula to scrape algae from rocks. The radula has many tiny teeth capped with the element magnetite; the teeth contain so much magnetite, in fact, that a magnet can pick them up.
The gumboot is one of about 650 species of chitons, which have remained virtually unchanged for over 500 million years. The gumboot needs little food, has simple body parts and is ignored as food by most other creatures, including humans. The gumboot’s only natural predator is the lurid rock snail.
Sometimes in the spring, great numbers of chitons gather on rocky beaches, probably venturing in from deeper waters to spawn. When you see chitons or other tide pool creatures, it’s best just to look, not touch—so the animals stay safe and undisturbed in their rocky shore homes.
The gumboot is nocturnal—it usually feeds at night.
The gumboot chiton is the largest chiton in the world.
When exposed to air during low tide, the gumboot can breathe oxygen from the atmosphere.
The shell plates are often broken, but the gumboot can repair such breaks.