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Haliotis walallensis - Flat abalone

Geographic range:
British Columbia to La Jolla, California

Key features:
Very flattened shell, a red lip (ventrally), and an epipodium that is mottled yellow and dark brown with dark, brown-greenish epipodial tentacles. The Pinto Abalone Haliotis kamtschatkana shell is not flattened and the epipodium is lighter brown with tinges of orange and gold, and the epipodial tentacles are golden-light brown.

Similar species:
Haliotis rufescens -- Red abalone Haliotis kamtschatkana -- Pinto abalone

bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore
Haliotis walallensis - Flat abalone image


Primary common name:
Flat Abalone
  ITIS code:
Synonymous name(s):
General grouping:
Snails, limpets, abalone, chitons

Geographic Range
Range description:
Haliotis walallensis can be found from British Columbia to La Jolla, California.
Northern latitude extent:
  Southern latitude extent:
East longitude extent:
  West longitude extent:

Intertidal Height
Lowest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Highest intertidal height:
0 meters OR 0 feet
Intertidal height notes:
Haliotis walallensis occurs very rarely in the low intertidal.

Subtidal Depth Range
Minimum depth:
0 meters OR 0 feet
  Maximum depth:
21 meters OR 69.93 feet
Subtidal depth notes:
Haliotis walallensis occurs throughout the subtidal to at least 21 m.

bay (rocky shore), exposed rocky shore, kelp forest, protected rocky shore
Habitat notes:
Haliotis walallensis lives on and under rocks and in crevices, from the low intertidal to at least 21 m deep.

Relative abundance:
Haliotis walallensis is fairly common in Northern California waters, but is rare south of Carmel, California.

Species Description
General description:
Haliotis walallensis belongs to the family Haliotidae in the class Gastropoda, shared by all snails and slugs, in the phylum Mollusca. All abalones belong to the genus Haliotis which is the only genus in the family Haliotidae. Worldwide, there are about 130 species, subspecies and hybrids belonging to this genus. A flattened ear shaped shell distinguishes abalones from other gastropods and imparts their genus name, Haliotis, which literally means sea ears. This shell is prized for its beautiful iridescent inner layer that is more commonly known as mother of pearl.
Distinctive features:
The shell of Haliotis walallensis is oval, long, narrow and considerably flattened. The color of the shell is dark brick red with occasional mottlings of greenish blue and white. The inside of the shell is pale pink, with green reflections. The shell has four to eight holes and usually five or six of them are open. There is no muscle scar although some may have small clumps of scattered green and brownish iridescence in the muscle attachment area. The body is mottled yellow and brown with tinges of green. The epipodium is a sensory structure and extension of the foot that bears tentacles, circles the foot and projects beyond the shell edge. In Haliotis walallensis, it is lacelike along the upper edge and colored a yellowish with large brown and yellow splotches.

When compared to other species of abalone Haliotis walallensis has a more flat and oblong shell that exhibits very little variation. Haliotis walallensis can perhaps been confused with a juvenile Red Abalone, Haliotis rufescens, but can be distinguished by the lacy epipodium mottled yellow or brown.
Haliotis walallensis can grow to a length of about 175 mm, though most individuals are 25 to 125 mm.

Natural History
General natural history:
Haliotis walallensis, and all abalones, are fairly primitive forms and therefore, their anatomy is not complicated. They have simple digestive, nervous, excretory, respiratory, reproductive and circulatory systems. They do not have a mechanism to coagulate blood and therefore, if the abalone is deeply cut, it may bleed to death. The foot is a large mussel mass that makes up most of the body and is used to generate the suction power necessary for the abalone to clamp down on rocky surfaces. The epipodium tentacles, especially the cephalic tentacles, serve as a sensory organ and are sensitive to touch and perhaps light as well. The thin edge of the shell serves as the location for Haliotis walallensis's head, mouth, a pair of long tentacles and eyes which are on eye stalks. The mantle is a thin, tough membrane that secures the internal organs within the protective shell while keeping them separate from the external environment. It also creates the shell of the abalone through continuous mucus secretions laying down layer up layer of calcium carbonate. The typical mottling of Haliotis walallensis's shell is likely due to its diatomaceous and coralline algae diet.
Sea otters, Enhydra lutris, and cabezon, Scorpaenichthys marmoratus are major predators of Haliotis walallensis. Crabs, octopi and other fish species occasionally prey on them. Their shells are often attacked by boring clams and sponges. There is also a highly regulated recreational fishery for Haliotis walallensis. The legal catchable size in California is 100 mm.
Haliotis walallensis feeds by grazing on small attached algae including diatomaceous and coralline algae.

Feeding behavior
Feeding behavior(s):
Feeding behavior notes:
Haliotis walallensis eats by scraping up algae with its rasp-like radula into its mouth.
March - August  
Haliotis walallensis has separate sexes that can be distinguished by the color of its gonad. The gonad is the largest organ in its body, at approximately half the animal, and is crescent or comma shaped. In females the gonad is green or grey and in males the gonad is creamy beige. Haliotis walallensis, as with all abalones, has high fertility that increases with size. An individual can carry from 10,000 to 11 million eggs at a time. They likely spawn in the spring or summer, depending on the water temperature. Fertilization takes place in the water after spawning and then the fertilized egg becomes a free-swimming larva for about one to two weeks. A shell starts to form during the end of the swimming stage and gradually increases in weight until the abalone sinks to the bottom where it settles.
Cox, Keith W. 1962. California abalones, family Haliotidae. California Department of Fish and Game Fish Bulletin 118: 1 - 133

Gotshall, D. 2005. Guide to marine invertebrates : Alaska to Baja California. Sea Challengers, Monterey, CA. 117 p.

Rocky Entries. 2006 (Updated 08/12/06). Abalone. World Wide Web electronic publication., Accessed [09/15/06].

Data supplied by SIMoN Sanctuary Integrated Monitoring Network
Anthopleura xanthogrammica - Giant green anemone

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