What Is a Razor Clam?

Anna Harrison

A razor clam is a shellfish in the Siliqua genus that lives along the eastern and western coastlines of the United States. Both the Atlantic and Pacific razor clam can be found buried in the sand on the shoreline as well as in sheltered locations and in the water a short distance offshore. Razor clam digging has become a popular sport along these coasts; razor clams are sought after by chefs for their sweet taste and large size.

Razor clams bury themselves to avoid sea birds.
Razor clams bury themselves to avoid sea birds.

This variety of clam is not very pretty, with a long thin shell and a meaty center that often contains a large pink worm. Nemertean worms appear inside the clams when they are about two years old. Although they are undesirable and ugly, they are completely harmless and do not adversely affect the quality of the clam.

Razor clams may be featured in chowder.
Razor clams may be featured in chowder.

Clams usually spawn during the spring and summer in cool water. A single female razor clam can produce as many as 10 million eggs each spawn. These are microscopic in size but quickly develop into larvae that can swim freely. They develop into young clams in as little as five weeks. Approximately 95% of these juveniles will die before maturity, usually due to natural causes rather than disease or predators.

Water currents carry the clams and deposit them in various places where they will settle and burrow into the sand. The depth and stability of the sand, as well as a supply of the phytoplankton that they feed on, determines whether the young clams survive. Instability of beaches and erosion causes some abundant razor clam populations to be short lived. The clams are washed away along with the beaches in severe storms.

Razor clams can dig quickly and may burrow as much as 4 feet (1.2 m) deep in the sand. They bury themselves to avoid being captured by sea birds, fish, crabs, and of course, clam-digging humans. Meals with clams have become very popular in restaurants all over the world. Cooking with clams is usually kept simple; they are often simply breaded and fried or steamed and added to soup, chowder, or other seafood recipes.

The fragile clam shells break very easily, and pieces can often be found in abundance on beaches. Razor clams are also much more perishable than other types of clams. They will keep longer, however, if quickly steamed and then stored in the refrigerator until needed.

Although razor clam digging has gained popularity, especially along the northwestern U.S. coastline, the shores are frequently closed to this activity. This is due to possible toxins within the clams, particularly domoic acid. Clams containing this toxin are unsafe to eat since it cannot be washed or cooked out.

Clam diggers often find razor clams buried along shorelines.
Clam diggers often find razor clams buried along shorelines.

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