Bay Journal

Chesapeake Clam Class

  • By Kathleen Gaskell on September 01, 2010
  • Comments are closed for this article.
Chesapeake Clams, l-r, Baltic macoma, stout razor clam, little surf clam, soft-shell clam, gem clams [very tiny near top of surface], hard clam, jackknife clam.

 (Illustration, used with permission, is from

The Chesapeake's mollusk population could become as "quiet as a clam" if current trends for these creatures continue. Here are five common clam species in the Bay. Can you match them up with their descriptions?

Baltic Macoma
Jackknife Clam
Hard Clam
Soft-Shell Clam
Stout Razor Clam

1. This gray, thick-shelled clam can grow 5 inches wide and 4.25 inches high. It is found in high-salinity waters of the Bay. In some areas of the East Coast, this clam is known as the quahog, a Narragansett Indian word for "dark, closed shell." Its thick shell's purple lining was the source of wampum, which was used a currency for early Native Americans. The terms button, littleneck, topneck, cherrystone and chowder all refer to specific sizes of this clam.

2. This clam can grow as wide as 6 inches. They are found throughout the Bay in both high– and low-salinity waters. It burrows as deep as 10 inches in the mud and sand of habitat ranging from 20 feet of water to tidal mudflats. These often reveal their location by spurting water out of their siphons - which are contained in a single black, leathery tube - when pressure, such as someone walking nearby, is applied to mud/sand they are buried in. Their thin shells are easily broken, hence their name.

3. This clam is 1.5 inches long and chalky white and is usually found along the shore. The siphons of this clam can be 10 times longer than its shell, allowing the animal to bury itself almost 1 foot deep in the mud. The inhalant siphon is much longer than the expelling siphon, and is able to poke out of the burrow, sweeping the nearby area for bits of food to suck up. It is the main winter food of the black duck and is favored by other waterfowl as well.

4. This rectangular, 4-inch, white clam was one of the most common large clams in the Bay, living both in tidal waters and in water up to 30 feet deep. Using its strong foot, it is able to quickly burrow in the mud or sand flats where it lives in a permanent tunnel lined with mucous. Each of its two siphons has its own sand tunnel.

5. This narrow clam's 10-inch shell is shiny and slightly curved. It is found along the shores of Virginia and lower Maryland. Because its siphons are very short, it spends a lot of time near the top of its burrow feeding. If it is threatened, it is able to quickly descend down its burrow and hold on so tightly that the shell may separate from the body when attempts are made to pull the animal from its tunnel.

Answers

1. Hard Clam
2. Soft Clam
3. Baltic Macoma
4. Stout Razor Clam
5. Jackknife Clam

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About Kathleen Gaskell

Kathleen A. Gaskell, the layout & design editor for the Bay Journal, has been involved with several environmental programs for children.

Read more articles by Kathleen Gaskell

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