What are Clams? Delicious in Taste, Pretty in Appearance

whole clam

Clams are edible and are quite loved by those who prefer seafood over every other food! Despite being featured on the thanksgiving table pictures of Ivanka Trump, they are more loved in certain regions than others.

When not in recipes or at someone’s table, they mostly spend their time buried in the sand.

Clams are invertebrates; animals that don’t have a backbone. They belong to the Mollusk group of invertebrates. Clams are also known as shellfish. Shellfish includes species from the phylum Mollusk and Crustacean.

This article will walk you through everything associated with Clams, from their anatomy to their significance in the ecosystem and from their various types to reproductive abilities.

Also, you would get to know how you can consume them!

Anatomy of Clams

clam varieties

Clams are enclosed in super-hard shells. Each shell comes in two halves, which are also known as valves. On each side of the half, there are adductor muscles. The main task of these muscles is to keep the shell closed and hold the boundary intact.

Whenever these muscles get relaxed, the shell opens up. There are ligaments on both sides that help these shells open. Using the feet, clams tend to dig deep down into the sand. In the same way, the mantle aids the shell in staying above the water.

The shell of this creature has bivalves and is pretty interesting. As long as the clam stays active and keeps feeding, the shells grow continuously. For most clams, the pliable ligament attached to the dorsal part of the bivalves is made of calcium carbonate, keeping the shell close.

Calcium deposits of the mantle are pretty resistant and can stay stored for even months. This is basically the main aiding part of the clam when it comes to growing the shell. The bivalves have three layers, and each one comes with a distinct composition.

Where the innermost layer of bivalves is also known as nacreous later, the middle one is called prosmatic layer and is the largest part of the shell. The outmost layer is called periostacum and is unavailable in the older clams. You will see two adductor muscles located at this part, performing significant functions.

There is no particular color of shells, and the same goes for the shapes. These features are species-specific.

As far as it’s about respiration, it’s done through the gills. Their main responsibility is to filter out all the food from the water and then consume it directly through the mouth. There are two pairs of flaps located right at the anterior side of the creature, which help it in food consumption.

The giant clam is the biggest of them all, having a life span of around a hundred years.

Food Source and Ecology


As clams are found both in freshwater as well as salt water, they can consume a variety of food items to fill their bellies up. They are filter feeders. Hence, they consume whatever comes through the siphon, but it should have some nutritional value to offer.

With the help of the conical muscles, these animals can set their foot in the water and mud pretty well. Hence, they are able to stay at a certain place while having their food and then move away when they are done.

Clams share a symbiotic relationship with the algae in which they let it live in their mantle. In this mutual relationship, algae get the needed nitrogen to live, while clams get the required nutrients through the algae.

With the help of some special muscles, they are able to dig deep holes in the sand and then bury themselves under the sand for quite some time. This way, they save themselves from the harsh winter season.

These creatures devour plankton, including plants as well as animals that are really small. They love consuming skates, whelks, oyster drills, and moon snails.

clam shell

This dormancy remains intact till the temperature goes up and gets normal for the creatures. During this time, the soft shell clams do not eat much but rather keep most of their energy in to save themselves from the extreme environment.

Filter feeding lets them help other animal species avoid eutrophication, which is basically the mass death of fish and other animals living in the same ecosystem.

Being filter feeders, they remove all the excessive nutrients from the ecosystem as they bubble about in tidal flats, which ensures a better feeding space for all the animals.

In ecology, these creatures are a food source for many animals, especially owing to the fact that it’s really easy to prey on them. Mostly, the predators of these clams are squids, crabs, eels, black skimmers, and angelfish.

However, the most prominent predator of these creatures is the human. They use clams not only for consumption but use their hard shells as decorative items as well.

Species & Types of Clams

Species & Types of Clams

Clams are found all around the world, and they are of a huge variety in terms of species. You would be amazed to know that there are more than fifteen thousand species of clams living worldwide.

However, these species are region specific, which means you will find an abundance of a particular species in a particular region.

Soft Shell Clam

what are clams

These animals, as the name specifies, have soft shells on them and are mostly visible on the beaches of North America, Europe, and Asia. Commonly, they are considered to be commercial clams and are a major food item in the regions they are available. They are eaten in a variety of manners.

Also known as Mya arenaria, made of a somewhat giant clam, this one comes with a delicious flavor and is pretty famous as the dish “clam chowder.” You will mostly find it in the saltwater habitat.

Hard Shell Clam

what is a clam

Another major species of this creature is the hard shell clam, also called Nothern Quahog. In some regions, it is also referred to as Mercenaria mercenaria. Mostly seen in freshwater habitats, these clams are found commonly in Florida and Canada.

Compared to the soft clams, they are bigger in size and have shells that are at least 10 cm larger than the soft clams. You would be amazed to know that this particular species can live for as many as thirty years!

Pacific Razor Clam

clams fish

The Razor clam is found in both the Pacific and Arctic oceans. It gets its name from its long, thin shape resembling a razor. Razor clams can reach up to 20 cm in length and live for up to 8 years.

Also known as Siliqua Patula, these Razor clams are pretty thin. They are found in great abundance throughout the Pacific ocean. Compared to the soft shell clams, they have shorter lives, around eight years maximum.

Mytilus Edulis

is clam an animal

Another commonly eaten saltwater clam is the Mussels, also known as Mytilus Edulis. If you move around a beach in Australia, Alaska, or somewhere in Europe, you are most likely to find these clams there.

As a matter of fact, their flavor makes them one of the most loved seafood dishes in North America. The preparation time of these clams is very low, making them a quick dish to make, and they taste heavenly, specifically with some wine!

clam insides

The Lifespan of a Clam

The lifespan of these invertebrates is pretty varied and depends on the species. While some clams can live for as long as five hundred years, others may have a life of only six months.

It is a common observation that the clams that live in saltwater live longer than those that live in freshwater. The life of hard-shell species is more than that of soft-shell species.

You would be amazed to know that the longest-living clams have lived on Earth for five hundred and seven years, as per studies and research.

is a clam a fish

There are many factors that we can associate with the longevity of these bivalves. First, as cold-blooded animals, they draw heat from their surroundings and do not produce any of it themselves. Hence, they are able to save a lot of their own energy.

Clams also live deep in the ocean, which is relatively considered a safe place to reside. After living for a long period, they end up thickening their shells. Hence, they get protected from attacks by predators.

How Are Clams Consumed in Various Cultures & Regions? (Culinary)

Being native to many countries, clams are devoured by a lot of people all across the globe. They are common on the dining table in the regions where they are in great abundance.

According to the stats, the country that consumes it in the greatest volume is China. Apart from this, it’s the United States of America, Canada, Thailand, Japan, Alaska, and Indonesia where clams are most eaten.

Spisula Solidissima

clam animal

Across the East Coast and around the Northern parts of America, Spisula Solidissima (Scallops) is abundant on the tables. It’s an edible clam that is filled with flavor and taste.

In Eastern America, the edible species of clams is the Strawberry cockle, commonly known as Americardia media. The Western coast of the United States of America is a great location to find clams; hence people residing there love to devour them.

The cultures of California (Chumash), British Columbia (Tsawwassen) and Washington (Nisqually), and Long Island have clams broth as one of the most prominent dishes on the dining tables.

Littleneck Clams

is a clam an animal

Having the smallest half shell, Littleneck clam is consumed by those who don’t have much of an appetite. This northern Quahog is eaten with boiled pasta.

Where in some regions, they are eaten raw; in other places, they are consumed boiled or baked. At the same time, most people serve it fried in butter. Many local variants on the West Coast are made using this as a staple item.

It’s not only America and Europe where it’s popular, but rather it’s loved in India as well. Mostly, you will see the residents of the coastal areas such as Bengal and Kerala, where people love well-cooked dishes of clams.

A typical Indian would prefer his bowl of clam filled with rice and butter. People living in Kerela love it with coconut as well.

In eastern Asia, the most common species is Corbicula fluminea, while central Asia and southeast Asia have Asiatic clam. Cooking them all is relatively easy!


are clams alive

As far as the Japanese are concerned, they cook it steamed in a hot pot or use the typical recipe of Tsukudani. For the British, Razorfish is a staple food owing to its availability in great abundance throughout the East Coast. They consume it sautéed in coconut oil and its broth on the side.

Pismo Clams

clams seafood

In western Wales, it’s the Cockles that are commonly eaten, while people residing in California get Pismo Clams.

This seafood item also is pretty prominent on the Italian platters, sitting along with their favorite pasta or linguine. Vongola and Cozza are the two most common ones served on the Italian tables, along with soups.

Clam Chowders

lifespan of a clam

Irrespective of the region, some of the most loved clams dishes include Clams chowder, sauce, and sautéed clams. Though the shell of a Razor clam is a bit brittle, it is still considered edible.

All around the US, you would see these clams deep-fried, grilled, and panned in restaurants. In Mexico, the savory clam is quite a loved and famous food item.

Facts About Clams

clam in shell
  1. One of the most interesting facts about clams is that they have no arms, legs, or biting parts on their heads. As a matter of fact, they don’t have a head as well!
  2. The inner body of this creature is super-soft, while the outer portion is hard, known as the shell. Hence, the outer part protects the inner!
  3. They are unable to see and smell on the basis that they don’t possess eyes and noses. Alongside this, as they don’t have ears, they can’t hear!
  4. Though they don’t have the obvious outer physical features, most clams have well-established, properly working internal systems, including the digestive system, circulatory system, and a heart that performs all the necessary actions.
  5. The outer shell of the clams is made of two parts connected with the two adductor muscles. These muscles help the shell open and close. They run transversely on these bivalves, helping the creature in various daily functions.
  6. Clam is a shellfish that is found in both freshwater as well as marine water habitats. It’s easy for them to move on mud and sand, thanks to their efficient burrowing foot. If not foot, the ocean currents help them move to longer distances.


clams animal

The special process through which clams reproduce is known as spawning. Sperms produced by the males are released in the water that reaches the eggs stored in the internal parts of the females.

However, it’s tough to decide whether a clam is a male or a female, as the specifications depend on the species.

They release not hundreds or thousands but millions of eggs and convert into larvae that later metamorphose into a hard shell. As the larvae are ready to metamorphose, they shift from swimming creatures to sedentary creatures.

Are They Edible?

clam people

Clams are edible and are a staple food in the regions where they are available in great abundance. From the pacific Razor clam to the Littleneck clams and from the soft shell ones to the mussels, they taste great with white wine.

In the gulf region, clam soups, sauce, and steamed clam with garlic dippings are consumed with great enthusiasm.

Do Clams Produce Pearls?

are clams alive

These creatures do produce pearls, but they are distinct in their value. This value depends on their surface quality, size, type, and color. Depending on the quality of the pearls, their value may be as less as $400 and can go up to $2000.

What Do Clams Eat?

how long does a clam live

Being filter feeder, they consume phytoplankton. The minute and microscopic plants they devour help them fulfill all their nutritional needs and requirements. The gills of clams are multi-functional and aid both in feeding as well as respiration.

Apart from these phytoplanktons, they love consuming detritus and organic material.

Would They Make a Good Pet?

what is clams

They make great pets as they are extremely low-maintenance, and you don’t need to do much to help them stay alive. You can easily have them in aquariums. Besides this, as there is no need to feed them frequently, they are one of the most stress-free pets to have.


Is Clam Vertebrate or an Invertebrate?

Clams are invertebrate animals, which means they don’t have a backbone. Belonging to the group Mollusks, they are used for cooking by humans in various manners. They are mostly found around river shores and sea coasts.

What Is the Scientific Name of Clam?

The scientific name of this creature is Bivalve Mollusk. They are edible, most of the time, and are found both in fresh water and marine water.

What Type of Animal Is a Clam?

Clam is a sea animal that is used not only to eat but also appears great as a decorative item.

Where Do Clams Come From?

They come from both freshwater and marine environments. They reproduce and expand during the warmer months, mostly in March and April.


Clam is a shellfish that is not only extremely delicious in its flavor but is also pretty attractive in terms of appearance. Hence, it gets a place on the dining table as an edible as well as an ornament.

Spread around the globe on seas and river coasts; they are massive in terms of species and highly nutritious yet tasty!

Cody Mitchell
Cody Mitchell is a pet lover and a passionate pet writer. He has worked as a professional writer for over 6 years, with a focus on creating compelling content for pet-related brands. His work has been featured in major publications. When he's not writing, Cody can be found playing with his two dogs (a labradoodle and a cocker spaniel) or cuddling his cat.

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