Fakename’s Animal Planet: The Chiton

It amazes me that I haven’t written anything since December 12th.  In my defense, well…I can’t think of anything in my defense.  At least nothing really good.

I did post, on January 2nd, the WordPress summary of my blog stats for 2010.  Those stats make it abundantly clear that most people prefer my postings about animals, as opposed to my brilliant political analysis.  What is the world coming to? 

So today we will talk about the lowly chiton, a marine mollusk found all over the world.  The occasion for this is an episode I heard last week on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

Scientists, it seems, are busy doing their usual routine, which is waking up one morning and saying “I wonder why….” or “I wonder how…” or “What if…”.  So a scientist at Northwestern University wondered how it is that squishy things like oysters make hard shells…or for that matter, how squishy things like humans make bones and teeth. 

So he began studying chitons.  Here is a pretty one: 

On the other hand, here’s the one he studies: 

So it turns out that chitons eat rocks.  They still haven’t figured out the process by which that makes them able to form inorganic structures like shells, but if they can, they may be able to figure out how to make better artificial bones and teeth for people.  (Aside:  scientists can no longer just ask “I wonder what would happen if…” In order to get grant money or remain employed, you have to show that it has some potential benefits to humans.  Pure curiousity and knowledge is no longer acceptable.  Perhaps it never was.  If you think about the great scientists of the past, they either financed themselves or had patrons.  We humans are so egocentric.  Sometimes I think  we would be better off if dolphins took over the world.) This is apparently a relatively new branch of science called “biomaterials”.  I immediately thought of spider webs.  I wonder if anyone has yet figured out how to make something that strong?  Of course, to build a building out of spider web material, you would need to bring the spider along to rebuild it overnight when a bird/frog/lizard smashes a hole in the web in the process of stealing your food. 

It turns out that chitons have lots of teeth.  Chiton teeth: 

Perhaps as a side effect of munching on rocks, their teeth are self-sharpening.  As NPR wryly noted, even if they don’t figure out the shell-producing process, it could be a big boon to the next generation of Ginsu knives.  Coming soon to your late-night infomercial. 

From NPR:  Rock-Munching Mollusks.

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12 responses to “Fakename’s Animal Planet: The Chiton

  1. masteroftheuniverse

    Speaking of dolphins…..have you noticed how tuna doesn’t taste as good since they started putting dolphin excluders on the fishing nets? Flipper always added something to the taste of Charlie the Tuna:)

  2. Jeff, what am I to do with you 🙂 I guess your comment is the companion to “barbecued manatee”.

  3. They look like pillbugs, which we have by the thousands around here. They are the only crustaceans with a purely terrestrial lifestyle.

    I do realize that mollusks are not crustaceans but these critters really do look like pillbugs, at least from the top.

  4. MOTU sounds like a charter member of PETA – “People Eating Tasty Animals.”

    No need to apologize for your brief hiatus, FN. Sometimes the best reason for not saying anything is when you don’t have anything to say. I will enjoy your website even more if you stay off political subjects. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop arguing with morons on the internet.

    I never heard of chitons before. They do seem to resemble pillbugs, which we call roly-polys around here. But apparantly chitons are only found in the sea. Roly-polys are found – everywhere around here, especially under logs or rocks.

    I would dispute your claim that the ONLY research that gets funded is research that might benefit humans. One example – telescopes that study stuff billions of light-years distant from Earth. But you make a good point anyway. Let’s amend your statement to say that research most likely to be funded is that which will benefit humans and/OR make huge profits for some big corporation.

  5. Fakesister, I hadn’t thought of that, but you’re totally right…they do look like pillbugs! Which, GC, I have also always called roly-polys. The difference between them is that the underside of the chiton is it’s squishy body. The segmented shell allows them to creep around over uneven terrain on the sea floor.
    Also GC, not having anything to say doesn’t always stop me 🙂 Your New Year’s resolution is working very well so far, I’d have to say. And I accept your amendment. Did you ever see that movie with Sean Connery, where he is researching a cancer drug in the middle of the Amazon forest? I forget the name of it.

  6. Wow.. if that first, colorful chiton is “natural” (and it looks like it is), then I’m surprised no one has been harvesting them to sell. Although I’m not a “shell” fan, I’ve been in some shell stores and don’t recall seeing any of those colorful chitons.

  7. While I’m being a smartass (see hawk comment in another thread), I want to know how two people who grew up in what I thought was the same household can have different names for the same critter? Pillbugs vs roly-polys, although some folks call them sow bugs.

    What do you call those ruddy-brown-and-black caterpillars that are used as a harbinger of just how bad the winter will be? I’ve always called them fuzzy wuzzies, and although I can find them by that name via our friend Google, I can only find pictures under woolly bear.

  8. I remember a movie (but not the actors) in which someone was looking for some kind of cure among the Amazon life forms. I think that the cure was found but couldn’t be duplicated, but at the end we saw ants walking around in the sugar – a source no one had thought of.

  9. Interesting article here. http://tinyurl.com/4pg8xsv

  10. Fakesister, you only think we grew up in the same household. You grew up there, I only slept there. I was an orphan. I was “raised” by my teachers and my peers. Good thing they weren’t drug dealers and prostitutes, else I would be too. I had good role models. Though granted, I came perilously close to the dark side. I’m not nearly as mad about it as I used to be, and I still have a few fond memories…Like the time I came home from the library to find you reading the “S” volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, and I was like, My God…she’s up to “S”? While you clarified it later to say that you were not reading them in order, and that you were reading about whatever caught your attention at the time, I still thought it was very impressive. I thought wow, I will never be as smart as Fakesister. You were like twelve years old 🙂

  11. As I understand it, all children are raised by their peer group with few other outside influences. Parents think they are doing the raising, and some of them do act as one of those rare outside influences, but children inhabit a different world.

  12. Well Fakesister, I don’t think that’s exactly right. I can’t tell you the number of times I wished for a parent, somebody who was on my side no matter what, and I never had it. But it’s way too late to whine about it now 🙂

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