Marine Biology

, Volume 154, Issue 1, pp 37–49 | Cite as

Estimation of the attachment strength of the shingle sea urchin, Colobocentrotus atratus, and comparison with three sympatric echinoids

  • Romana SantosEmail author
  • Patrick Flammang
Research Article


The peculiar limpet-like morphology of the genus Colobocentrotus is unique among the regular echinoids. This shape has been interpreted as an adaptation to life in areas of extreme wave exposure. In this study the attachment strength of C. atratus is compared with that of three sympatric species, Echinometra mathaei, Heterocentrotus trigonarius and Stomopneustes variolaris, which have more typical echinoid morphology and live in different microhabitats. For each species, the adhesion of individual sea urchins was measured as well as the tenacity of single tube foot and the mechanical properties of the tube foot stems. Colobocentrotus always presented the highest measured values, although not always significantly different from those of the other species. Of the mechanical properties of the stem measured, the stem extensibility was the only property that was significantly different among species. In general the stems of all the species studied became more extensible and more difficult to break with increasing strain rate, providing an adaptative advantage to the sea urchin when subjected to rapid loads such as waves. In terms of single tube foot tenacity, C. atratus tube feet attached with a tenacity (0.54 MPa) two times higher than the one of E. mathaei, H. trigonarius and S. variolaris (0.21–0.25 MPa). Individual sea urchins of the four species, however, attached with a similar strength (0.2–0.26 MPa). The calculation of safety factors showed that it is the very high number of adoral tube feet of C. atratus and not the overall shape of the animal that allows this species to withstand very high water velocities. However, C. atratus streamlined morphology may be a functional adaptation to reduce the impact of other hydrodynamic forces (such as wave impingement forces) or to cope with other selective environmental stresses (such as dessication), and thus to inhabit extremely exposed areas of the intertidal.


Water Velocity Single Tube Detachment Force Attachment Force Attachment Strength 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors thank the Director and staff of ECOMAR—Laboratoire d’Ecologie Marine (Saint Denis, Reunion Island), especially Prof. C. Conand, and of the “Aquarium de la Réunion” (Saint Gilles les Bains, Réunion Island) for sea urchin maintenance. Thanks also to Dr. D. Lanterbecq for valuable help in field and experimental work, and to P. Postiau for technical assistance. Work supported in part by a FRFC Grant no. 2.4532.07. R. S. is benefited from a doctoral grant of the Foundation for Science and Technology of Portugal (SFRH/BD/4832/2001). P.F. is a Senior Research Associate of the Fund for Scientific Research of Belgium (F.R.S.–FNRS). This study is a contribution from the Centre Interuniversitaire de Biologie Marine (CIBIM;


  1. Agassiz A (1908) The genus Colobocentrotus. Mem Mus Comp Zool 39:1–33Google Scholar
  2. Bell EC, Gosline JM (1996) Mechanical design of mussel byssus: material yield enhances attachment strength. J Exp Biol 199:1005–1017PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Conand C, Chabanet P, Gravier-Bonnet N (2003) Biodiversité du milieu récifal réunionnais: échinodermes, poissons et hydraires. Rapport au Conseil RégionalGoogle Scholar
  4. De Ridder C (1986) Les Echinides. In: Guille A, Laboute P, Menou JL (eds) Guide des étoiles de mer, oursins et autres échinodermes du lagon de Nouvelle-Calédonie. Editions de l’ORSTOM, Paris, pp 23–53Google Scholar
  5. Denny MW (1988) Biology and mechanics of the wave-swept environment. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  6. Denny M (2000) Limits to optimization: fluid dynamics, adhesive strength and the evolution of shape in limpet shells. J Exp Biol 203:2603–2622PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Denny M, Gaylord B (1996) Why the urchin lost its spines: hydrodynamic forces and survivorship in three echinoids. J Exp Biol 199:717–729PubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Denny M, Miller L, Stokes M, Hunt L, Helmuth B (2003) Extreme water velocities: Topographical amplification of wave-induced flow in the surf zone of rocky shores. Limnol Oceanogr 48:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ebert TA (1982) Longevity, life history, and relative body wall size in sea urchins. Ecol Monogr 52:353–394CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Flammang P (1996) Adhesion in echinoderms. In: Jangoux M, Lawrence JM (eds) Echinoderm studies, vol 5. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp 1–60Google Scholar
  11. Gallien B (1987) A comparison of hydrodynamic forces on two sympatric sea urchins: implications of morphology and habitat. MSc thesis. University of Hawaii, HonoluluGoogle Scholar
  12. Gaylord B (2000) Biological implications of surf-zone flow complexity. Limnol Oceanogr 45:174–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hyman LH (1955) The invertebrates: Echinodermata. McGraw-Hill, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  14. Lawrence J (1987) A functional biology of echinoderms. Croom Helm, LondonGoogle Scholar
  15. Leddy HA, Johnson AS (2000) Walking versus breathing: mechanical differentiation of sea urchin podia corresponds to functional specialization. Biol Bull 198:88–93PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kier PM (1974) Evolutionary trends and their functional significance in the post-paleozoic echinoids. J Paleontol 48:1–95Google Scholar
  17. Märkel K, Titschack H (1965). Das Festhaltevermögen von Seeigeln und die Reißfestigkeitihrer Ambulacralfüßchen. Sond Zeit Naturw 10:268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mortensen T (1943) A monograph of the Echinoidea–Camarodonta. CA Reitzel, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  19. Régis MB, Thomassin BA (1982) Ecologie des échinoïdes réguliers dans les récifs coralliens de la région de Tuléar (S.W. de Madagascar): adaptation de la microstructure des piquants. Ann Inst Océanogr 58:117–158Google Scholar
  20. Rogers-Bennett L, Bennett WA, Fastenau HC, Dewees CM (1995) Spatial variation in red sea urchin reproduction and morphology: implications for harvest refugia. Ecol Appl 5:1171–1180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Santos R, Flammang P (2005) Morphometry and mechanical design of tube foot stems in sea urchins: a comparative study. J Exp Mar Biol Ecol 315:211–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Santos R, Flammang P (2006) Morphology and tenacity of the tube foot disc of three common European sea urchin species: a comparative study. Biofouling 22:187–200PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Santos R, Flammang P (2007) Intra- and interspecific variation of attachment strength in sea urchins. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 332:129–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Santos R, Gorb S, Jamar V, Flammang P (2005) Adhesion of echinoderm tube feet to rough surfaces. J Exp Biol 208:2555–2567PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Shadwick RE (1992) Biomechanics–Materials, A Practical Approach. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  26. Sharp DT, Gray IE (1962) Studies on factors affecting local distribution of two sea urchins, Arbacia punctulata and Lytechinus variegatus. Ecology 43:309–313CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Smith AB (1978) A functional classification of the coronal pores of echinoids. Paleontology 21:759–789Google Scholar
  28. Vogel S (2003) Comparative biomechanics—life’s physical world. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  29. Yule AB, Walker G (1987) Adhesion in barnacles. In: Southward AJ (ed) Crustacean Issues, vol 5, biology of barnacles. Balkema, Rotterdam, pp 389–402Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Académie Universitaire Wallonie-BruxellesUniversité de Mons-Hainaut, Laboratoire de Biologie marineMonsBelgium
  2. 2.Instituto de Tecnologia Química e BiológicaLaboratório de Espectrometria de MassaOeirasPortugal

Personalised recommendations