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What Is a Flame Scallop?

A flame scallop is a vibrant marine bivalve, known for its striking red mantle and tentacles that resemble flickering flames. This captivating creature not only adds a splash of color to the ocean floor but also plays a role in aquatic ecosystems. Wondering how this living ember survives and thrives in its underwater realm? Join us as we explore the life of a flame scallop.
L. Whitaker
L. Whitaker

A flame scallop, also known as a rough fileclam, is a red-colored bivalve mollusc that is native to the Caribbean Sea. This creature belongs to the Limidae family, with the scientific name Lima scabra. Despite the name, it is not related to scallops except in appearance; distant relatives of this marine animal include cephalopods, such as octopuses, and gastropods, such as snails. This creature breathes and filters phytoplankton through its gills. Flame scallops are notoriously difficult to maintain in captivity.

The outer shell of the flame scallop is rough and red-colored, and it features white and red tentacles around the mouth. The red color of these molluscs is caused by their high number of carotenoids. A subspecies of Lima scabra is known as the electric flame scallop or flashing flame scallop. This is a bioluminescent variety that features an electric-looking blue flash around the lips that is believed to attract plankton.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Flame scallops can grow up to 3 inches (7.62 cm) when fully mature. These creatures are naturally hermaphroditic, tending to be male at lesser maturity and female later in life. Specimens that are larger than 2 inches (5.08 cm) are most likely female and over two years old. For the best outcome when purchasing a flame scallop for home enjoyment, it is recommended to buy one that is not much larger than 1 inch (2.5 cm) and therefore likely to live longer in captivity. Their natural lifespans tend to be three to four years, but many people experience the decline of purchased flame scallops within six to 12 months due to their complicated care needs.

When purchased as an exotic pet, the flame scallop requires an aquarium habitat that is established and thriving, with stable pH and saline levels. The water cannot contain nitrates or copper, both of which are poisonous to this marine animal, and should have a high level of calcium. Water temperature should be maintained at a range of 72-78 degrees Fahrenheit (22.2-25.56 degrees Celsius). The habitat should not contain any aggressive fish or sea stars that are likely to prey on the flame scallop. Owners of a flame scallop should avoid moving the creature by hand to enhance visibility in the tank, due to this creature's preference for hiding in crevices to avoid capture by prey.

Plankton provided as food for captive flame scallops must be an appropriate particle size for the creatures to digest. A phytoplankton or zooplankton mix of under 1.57 inches (200 mm) can be fed at least daily. To feed flame scallops appropriately, load a pipette with plankton and then allow the food to gently drift into the water close to the individual creature.

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