Abalone are marine snails that have a beautiful shell that is found all over the world. The multi colored iridescence makes it unique among shells and desirable for adornment as well.
Abalone vary in size from 20 mm (0.79 in) to 200 mm (7.9 in) while Haliotis rufescens is the largest of the genus at 12 in (30 cm).
The shell of abalones is convex, rounded to oval in shape, and may be highly arched or very flattened. The shell of the majority of species has a small, flat spire and two to three whorls. The last whorl, known as the body whorl, is auriform, meaning that the shell resembles an ear, giving rise to the common name "ear shell". Haliotis asinina has a somewhat different shape, as it is more elongated and distended. The shell of Haliotis cracherodii cracherodii is also unusual as it has an ovate form, is imperforate, shows an exserted spire, and has prickly ribs.
A mantle cleft in the shell impresses a groove in the shell, in which are the row of holes characteristic of the genus. These holes are respiratory apertures for venting water from the gills and for releasing sperm and eggs into the water column. They make up what is known as the selenizonewhich forms as the shell grows. This series of eight to 38 holes is near the anterior margin. Only a small number is generally open. The older holes are gradually sealed up as the shell grows and new holes form. Each species has a typical number of open holes, between four and 10, in the selenizone. An abalone has no operculum. The aperture of the shell is very wide and nacreous.
The exterior of the shell is striated and dull. The color of the shell is very variable from species to species which may reflect the animal's diet. The iridescent nacre that lines the inside of the shell varies in color from silvery white, to pink, red and green-red to deep blue, green to purple.
The animal has fimbriated head lobes and side lobes which are fimbriated and cirrated. The radula has small median teeth, and the lateral teeth are single and beam-like. They have about 70 uncini, with denticulated hooks, the first four very large. The rounded foot is very large in comparison to most molluscs. The soft body is coiled around the columellar muscle, and its insertion, instead of being on the columella, is on the middle of the inner wall of the shell. The gills are symmetrical and both well developed.
These snails cling solidly with their broad, muscular foot to rocky surfaces at sublittoral depths, although some species such as Haliotis cracherodii used to be common in the intertidal zone. Abalones reach maturity at a relatively small size. Their fecundity is high and increases with their size, laying from 10,000 to 11 million eggs at a time. The spermatozoa are filiform and pointed at one end, and the anterior end is a rounded head.