When people think about clams, they typically visualize the type of softshell, white(ish) clam that is steamed and added to soups and chowders––the ones that sort of look like they are smiling when their shell opens up a bit. This, however, is not the only type of clam out there. A clam is a type of bivalve mollusk and is in the same grouping as oysters, mussels, and scallops. According to Britannica, More than 15,000 living species of bivalves are known, of which about 500 live in fresh water; the others occur in all seas.
That’s a lot of clams!
Each bivalve species is a tad bit different than the rest. The clams in particular that are quite interesting to look at, and even at times make people giggle, are the geoduck clam and the horse clam, which is also often called the gaper clam.
Here is the geoduck clam that can be mistaken for something else if not careful, courtesy of How Stuff Works.
And here is its funky-looking cousin, the horse clam, courtesy of the ODFW.
Continue reading to learn a bit about each and how these clams compare.
Where do these clams live?
The geoduck, which is the world’s largest burrowing clam, can be found living as happy as a clam (literally) in Puget Sound, which is located in the Pacific Northwest. This area is where the largest geoducks thrive, although other species of the creature are known to live around Argentina, New Zealand, and Japan. In Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington, the geoduck is a huge part of the commercial fishing industry, where there are hundreds of millions inhabiting these areas (Smithsonian)
They thrive in coastal waters and love to burrow away in muddy, sandy areas.
Washington is all about the geoduck clam.
Comparatively, the horse clam, which is Oregon and California’s largest common clam, can be found in the Pacific Ocean, ranging from the Baja California area all the way north to Kodiak Island.
Horse clams enjoy a muddy, sandy habitat and can be found in the lower intertidal zone, which is about 50 to 60 feet in depth at the most. Within this area, they bury themselves 1 to 2 feet deep.
Geoduck clam and horse clams both seem to live a simple life, just hanging out in the mud away from a lot of commotion and predators.
What do these Horse and Geoduck Clams look like?
You were able to see the pictures above, and here are some specific and interesting facts about their appearance.
Despite its small shell, which is generally 6 to 8 inches in length, the geoduck’s body can stretch to over three feet long! Their siphons, or necks, can stretch out significantly. They range in weight too; the average weight of a geoduck is about seven pounds, but there have been reports of them weighing up to 14 pounds!
Horse clams, or gaper clams, are a bit smaller than geoduck clams.
They have smaller shells and typically only weigh 3 to 4 pounds on average. Their shells are chalky-white in color and have patches of yellowish-brownish colors on them.
These clams might look odd, but their physical features have a purpose, which is how they survive and go about their daily lives. Evolution knows best!
Why do these clams look so weird?
Both of these “not-safe-for-work” looking clams are shaped the way they are for a purpose. Some of it relates to daily living such as eating and breathing, while other parts relate to their defense mechanism, which keeps them alive. So don’t judge these guys...they have been around for at least thousands and thousands of years, since the most recent interglacial epoch.
These clams’ long “necks” are like this for a reason.
The geoduck’s siphon or “neck” stretches out to not only take in oxygen and food––mostly phytoplankton––but their siphons also release excess water in an alternate opening.
Geoducks also use their body to dig into the ocean floor or mud beds with their tiny feet and remain relatively sedentary. When a predator approaches, they do not need to escape and hide—they simply retract its siphon, like a turtle withdraws its head (Smithsonian).
Similar to the geoduck, the horse crab’s siphon cannot be fully pulled back completely into the shell––hence why they bury themselves into the mud and sand, but it has a leather-like flap on the tip, unlike the geoduck. This crab, which is sometimes called a gaper crab, is called so probably because it’s always “gaping” open.
But again, don’t criticize these clams. They create a sport, research, profit, and a delicious meal for many individuals.
Which clam is the most popular?
In the Pacific Northwest, harvesting and fishing for these clams, especially for geoduck clams, is a huge and profitable business. But the geoduck clam wins the popularity contest.
Interestingly enough, geoduck clams are considered a delicacy and even an aphrodisiac in China, whose business with the Pacific Northwest is a multi-million dollar one. More specifically, the trading of geoduck is a 50 million dollar industry, at least, with the majority of orders going to Asia.
More than 90 percent of geoducks harvested in B.C. are exported and sold to Chinese markets where the demand is huge, apparently due to its aphrodisiac properties. It is sold for anywhere between $20-$30 per pound (Victoria News).
You can find the delectable geoduck on the menu in some fine-dining restaurants, mostly Asian fare.
On the other hand, the horse clam is fortunate to not be as popular or tasty, although you can do a Google search and find several recipes with them in it. These poor guys are even sometimes used as bait for larger species.
Basically, nothing can compare to the geoduck clam.
You can find live and fresh geoduck clam on Fathom Seafood’s website and get a box on your doorstep within 24 hours of ordering!
Get yours soon then find a yummy geoduck recipe to create as well.