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What is a Giant Clam?

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  • Written By: Steve R.
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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A giant clam is the largest mollusk known on the planet and belongs to the Tridacnidae family. Located in reefs in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, the invertebrate can grow up to four feet (about 1.2 m) and tip the scales at more than 500 pounds (about 227 kg). These animals can live for more than 100 years.

The clams have a symbiotic relationship with minute sea life, including corals, algae, sponges, and sea anemones. This partnership is what allows the clam to reach its tremendous size. The giant clams offer the tiny sea creatures a safe environment where they can produce food via photosynthesis. In turn, the clam absorbs into its shell the overabundance of sugars and nutrients created by the creatures.

The giant clam holds itself upright by latching on to a hard surface, such as a rock or coral, with the use of an attachment known as the byssus. The byssus is made from a liquid material that hardens to create coarse fibers. The fibers grow through a hole located at the bottom of the clam’s shell and latch onto a solid material. The other end of the fiber is located inside the clam.

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The sea creature's toughest part is its shell, which may be several inches thick, making it almost impossible for predators to crack. A giant clam’s shell is formed by a fold of skin, known as the mantle. Inside of its mantle are two tubes called siphons, which allow the clam to take in or let out water. On its shell, the giant clam sports markings. Each giant clam contains its own distinct coloration.

When the mollusk finds a spot to dwell, it will make its home there permanently. Because the clam is so heavy, it relies on spawning to reproduce. The creatures, which contain both male and female reproductive organs, discharge eggs and sperm into the water. These sex cells then mix with cells released by neighboring clams. If the conditions are right, the sex cells can join together to produce more clams.

Claims that giant clams are a man-eating creatures are false. No giant clam has ever been proven to have caused a human’s death. The sea creature possesses abductor muscles that allow it to gradually shut its shell, but the abductor muscles do not open wide enough to do any harm to humans.

The mollusk is often hunted for its abductor muscles, which are considered a delicacy. In addition, the creatures are collected as pets. The colorful shells make the clams attractive to some aquarium owners.

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