29 Sep 2017

Critter of the Week - pāua

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:30 pm on 29 September 2017
Black-foot pāua  Haliotis iris

Black-foot pāua Haliotis iris Photo: H. Zell CC BY-SA 3.0.jpg

Pāua not only have very colourful shells and make tasty fritters, they're also one of the fastest moving snails in the world.

Pāua are part of the international abalone family, but it's only New Zealand's blackfoot pāua that have the fantastically coloured shells, due to eating a certain red-brown algae, says DoC's endangered species ambassador Nicola Toki.

Pāua are a mollusc and a gastropod, literally 'stomach-footed snail'.

They have tiny ribbon-like tentacles on the outside of their shell and use these to move around – as fast as any other snail on earth.

"Most of the time they just hang out on rocks and do very little but if they think they're under threat they can actually get a bit of a move on."

Yet they don't move far – usually not beyond a 10-metre radius their whole life, Toki says.

That life could be 30 years long and in this time they can grow to 20 centimetres in length.

The holes in a pāua shell – which people who've tried to use them as an ashtray may be familiar with – expel water and waste and in summer eggs and sperm.

It's always essential to use a proper tool when collecting pāua as they are haemophiliacs and extremely sensitive to overharvesting, Toki says.

"If you're using a knife and you try and flick a pāua off a rock, the danger that you might cut it. If it's too small you've lost it. You can't put it back and let it live another day because it will bleed to death."

Check out our collection of Critters of the Week here.

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