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What Is a Razor Clam?

By Anna Harrison
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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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.

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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a razor clam and how does it get its name?

Razor clams are bivalve mollusks known for their elongated, narrow shells, which resemble the shape of an old-fashioned straight razor. They burrow into sandy shorelines, and their unique shape allows them to dig quickly and efficiently, evading predators and strong surf.

Where can you typically find razor clams?

Razor clams are commonly found in the intertidal zones of sandy beaches along coastlines. They thrive in the Pacific Ocean, from Alaska to California, and are also found in the Atlantic Ocean, particularly from New England to the Mid-Atlantic states. Their habitat extends to various parts of Europe and the British Isles as well.

How do razor clams burrow into the sand?

Razor clams burrow by extending a foot out of their shell into the sand and then swelling it to anchor themselves. They then contract muscles to pull the shell downward. This process is repeated, allowing them to dig at remarkable speeds and escape threats or the incoming tide.

What is the significance of razor clams to the ecosystem and local economies?

Razor clams play a crucial role in coastal ecosystems by aerating the sand and serving as prey for birds and fish. They are also economically important; for instance, in Washington state, recreational harvesting of razor clams is a multimillion-dollar industry, attracting thousands of diggers during the open seasons, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

How do people typically harvest razor clams?

Harvesting razor clams is often done by hand or with specialized tools like clam guns or shovels. Clam diggers look for telltale signs called "shows" – dimples or holes in the sand that indicate a clam's presence below. Harvesting usually occurs during low tides when the clams are more accessible.

Are there any conservation concerns regarding razor clams?

Conservation concerns for razor clams include overharvesting and habitat destruction. Regulatory agencies monitor populations and set limits on the size and number of clams that can be harvested. Additionally, water quality issues such as toxic algal blooms can lead to temporary harvesting closures to ensure public health and clam population stability.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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