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Soft-shell clam

Soft-shell clam

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Soft-shell clams, scientific name Mya arenaria, popularly called "steamers", "softshells", "longnecks", "piss clams", "Ipswich clams", or "Essex clams" are a species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 of edible saltwater clam
Clam
The word "clam" can be applied to freshwater mussels, and other freshwater bivalves, as well as marine bivalves.In the United States, "clam" can be used in several different ways: one, as a general term covering all bivalve molluscs...

, a marine
Marine (ocean)
Marine is an umbrella term. As an adjective it is usually applicable to things relating to the sea or ocean, such as marine biology, marine ecology and marine geology...

 bivalve mollusk in the family Myidae
Myidae
Myidae is a family of bivalve molluscs in the order Myoida.-Genera:* Cryptomya ** Cryptomya californica - California softshell* Mya Linnaeus, 1758...

.

These clams live buried in the mud on tidal mudflats. They are well-known as a food item on the coast of New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 in the Western Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

, however the range extends much farther north to Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and south to the Southern states.
They are also found in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean, for example in the UK, as well as in the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

's Wadden Sea
Wadden Sea
The Wadden Sea is an intertidal zone in the southeastern part of the North Sea. It lies between the coast of northwestern continental Europe and the range of Frisian Islands, forming a shallow body of water with tidal flats and wetlands. It is rich in biological diversity...

 (where they are the dominant large clam).

This species has become an invasive
Invasive species
"Invasive species", or invasive exotics, is a nomenclature term and categorization phrase used for flora and fauna, and for specific restoration-preservation processes in native habitats, with several definitions....

 on the Pacific Coast
Pacific Coast
A country's Pacific coast is the part of its coast bordering the Pacific Ocean.-The Americas:Countries on the western side of the Americas have a Pacific coast as their western border.* Geography of Canada* Geography of Chile* Geography of Colombia...

 of North America
North America
North America is a continent wholly within the Northern Hemisphere and almost wholly within the Western Hemisphere. It is also considered a northern subcontinent of the Americas...

, including Alaska
Alaska
Alaska is the largest state in the United States by area. It is situated in the northwest extremity of the North American continent, with Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north, and the Pacific Ocean to the west and south, with Russia further west across the Bering Strait...

, Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 and the continental USA. M. arenaria originated in the Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 during the Miocene
Miocene
The Miocene is a geological epoch of the Neogene Period and extends from about . The Miocene was named by Sir Charles Lyell. Its name comes from the Greek words and and means "less recent" because it has 18% fewer modern sea invertebrates than the Pliocene. The Miocene follows the Oligocene...

. It extended its range in the early Pliocene
Pliocene
The Pliocene Epoch is the period in the geologic timescale that extends from 5.332 million to 2.588 million years before present. It is the second and youngest epoch of the Neogene Period in the Cenozoic Era. The Pliocene follows the Miocene Epoch and is followed by the Pleistocene Epoch...

 to the Atlantic, including European waters. The Pacific and European populations went extinct some time in the early Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

, leaving only the Northwest Atlantic population, which subsequently spread via humans to its current distribution.

Physiology



M. arenaria has a calcium carbonate
Calcium carbonate
Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound with the formula CaCO3. It is a common substance found in rocks in all parts of the world, and is the main component of shells of marine organisms, snails, coal balls, pearls, and eggshells. Calcium carbonate is the active ingredient in agricultural lime,...

 shell, which is very thin and easily broken, hence the name "soft-shells" (as opposed to its beach-dwelling neighbors, the thick-shelled quahog).

This clam is found living approximately 6–10 inches under the surface of the mud. It extends its paired siphons up to the surface; these are used to draw in seawater that is filtered for food and expelled. The holes in the mud through which the water is drawn in and out can often be seen at low tide. Water may be visibly ejected from the siphon tips when pressure is applied to the surrounding mud. This makes the clams easier to locate when humans are hunting for them during clam digging
Clam digging
Clam digging is a common means of harvesting clams from below the surface of the tidal mud flats where they live. It is done both recreationally and commercially...

.

Predators


As well as falling prey to humans, this clam is apparently relished by sea otter
Sea Otter
The sea otter is a marine mammal native to the coasts of the northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean. Adult sea otters typically weigh between 14 and 45 kg , making them the heaviest members of the weasel family, but among the smallest marine mammals...

s in the Eastern Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

, where the clam is an invasive species (see image above). In New England the Soft-shell clam is preyed heavily upon by invasive Northern moon snails and green crabs
Carcinus maenas
Carcinus maenas is a common littoral crab, and an important invasive species, listed among the 100 "world's worst alien invasive species". It is native to the north-east Atlantic Ocean and Baltic Sea, but has colonised similar habitats in Australia, South Africa, South America and both Atlantic and...

. They're a favorite of Sea Gulls diving down from above. They grab the clam from the sand, climb to about 150 feet, drop the clam on a hard concrete or other type surface and then dive down fast to eat the clam before others could get to it.

Cooking


Soft-shell clams are edible and can be enjoyed in a variety of dishes. Before cooking, it is generally recommended that clams be stored in saltwater
Brine
Brine is water, saturated or nearly saturated with salt .Brine is used to preserve vegetables, fruit, fish, and meat, in a process known as brining . Brine is also commonly used to age Halloumi and Feta cheeses, or for pickling foodstuffs, as a means of preserving them...

 for a few days to facilitate the expulsion of sand from their digestive tracts. Some recommend that cornmeal
Cornmeal
Cornmeal is flour ground from dried maize or American corn. It is a common staple food, and is ground to fine, medium, and coarse consistencies. In the United States, the finely ground cornmeal is also referred to as cornflour. However, the word cornflour denotes cornstarch in recipes from the...

 be added to the water to give the clams something to filter from it.

Soft-shell clams can be eaten steamed, fried, or in clam chowder
Clam chowder
Clam chowder is any of several chowders containing clams and broth. Along with the clams, diced potato is common, as are onions, which are occasionally sauteed in the drippings from salt pork or bacon. Celery is frequently used. Other vegetables are uncommon, but small carrot strips might...

. "Steamers
Steamed clams
Steamed clams is a seafood dish consisting of various types and preparations of clam that steamed according to local custom in various countries....

" (steamed soft-shell clams) are an integral part of the New England clam bake
New England clam bake
The New England clam bake is a traditional method of cooking foods, especially seafood such as lobster, mussels, crabs, steamers, and quahogs. The seafood is often supplemented by sausages, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn on the cob, etc...

, where they are served steamed whole in the shell, then pulled from the shell at the table and dipped, first in the clam broth in which they were cooked, to rinse away sand, and then in melted butter
Butter
Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk. It is generally used as a spread and a condiment, as well as in cooking applications, such as baking, sauce making, and pan frying...

.

Scientific literature