1.  Food:

     Along the world's miles of coastline, man has always had a very available food source - high in protein and trace minerals, because of the many kinds of molluscs to be found there. Mussel and oyster beds, clam-flats and other abundant shellfish have always provided an easy source of food.

     Today, fisheries in Europe, Japan and the US alone produce over 1 billion pounds of oyster meat each year. Abalone, a great delicacy, can fetch up to three hundred dollars per pound. Could you imagine a world without Clam Chowder?

*One problem does exist; however. At certain times of the year, (usually the warmer months) many species of salt-water molluscs become very poisonous (L) due to an algal bloom (Note: The algae include many unusual organisms which are one-celled and can swim like animals, and all the many different kinds of seaweed.) known as "red tide." The molluscs filter feed on these tiny creatures (called "dinoflagellates" - no relation to dinosaurs!!) that produce the toxins. Eating shellfish during "Red Tide' can cause serious illness and even death to humans. This could be one explanation why in the Jewish and Muslim cultures, shellfish are considered unclean and forbidden.

     Tastes in molluscan food vary tremendously from one person to the next and from culture to culture; however, when it comes to a question of survival, most molluscs are edible. Some are considered delicacies such as oysters and escargot while others such as the clams and mussels of fresh water ponds and streams are less likely to be consumed due to taste, but none-the-less are very edible. Terrestrial molluscs (the ones that live on land, i.e..) are also eaten. France alone consumes 5 million pounds of escargot (a snail that lives in trees!) every year.


Here are some more examples of molluscs commonly eaten:
  • clams: particularly honored in the New England States of the USA, !!

Protothaca staminea
Little neck Clam

Argopecten gibbus
Atlantic Calico Scallop
  • scallops: There are many different kinds ("species") of scallops eaten in many parts of the world.(Note: The "scallops" you purchase in the supermarket are in fact the muscle which the animal uses to close the two halves of its shell tightly together - called the "adductor" muscle.)
  • oysters: When eaten raw (something i personally can't imagine doing!!), are often thought to be an aphrodisiac.  Oysters can get expensive, which is probably why there is a recipe known as Oysters Rockefeller!

Crassostrea virginica
Atlantic or Eastern oyster

Perna viridis

Green mussel

Mytilus edulis

common blue mussel
  • mussels:  (Note: These are especially prone to poison people (L) with "Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning", which is caused by a tiny, one-celled animal called a dinoflagellate which infects mussels and other bivalves from time to time.  They produce a strong poison that affects your brain and nerves, and which has made millions of people sick over the years: NEVER eat mussels or any other bivalve when you don't know if the area has a problem with this deadly kind of food poisoning!!!  In a long-term survival situation, you could perhaps eat a very small nibble, then wait a day or two to see if you get ill, but even this is not advised.)
  • whelks: VERY big in Japan, and the French pickle them for winter eating!!

Buccinum undatum
Common Northern Whelk

Cerastoderma edule
Common edible cockle
  • cockles: (Europe & Malaysia) - as in Mary Molone, who cried "Cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o!"
  • conchs: produce a large amount of meat, and are especially treasured in the Caribbean region, where. the giant Pink (or Queen) Conch  is farmed extensively, in man-made ponds, or sheltered bays.

Stombus gigas
Giant Pink or Queen Conch

Loligo spp, Illex illecebrosus
California or Market squid
  • squid & octopus: Particularly popular in Japan, but is catching on in parts of the Western World.  In Newfoundland (Canada), they are used by the ton as bait for several kinds of fish. (Note:  Some octopuses and squid are incredibly smart!!  They are capable of learning to solve problems and do mazes - pretty clever for a mollusc!)
  • pen shells: (Japan and the Mediterranean)

Pinna nobilis
Pen or Fan Shell

Bathybembix bairdii
Baird's topsnail
  • top shells: (These are shaped like old-fashioned tops - pointed on one end, flat on the other.) - Caribbean especially, where the West Indian Top Shell.is considered a delicacy.
  • abalone: a well-known delicacy in many parts of the world.  Some rare species can sell for up to $300 a pound ($760 per Kilo)!!

Haliotis corrugata

Pink Abalone

Littorina angulifera

Angulate or Mangrove Periwinkle
  • periwinkles: These, once again, are much loved by the French, who really like their seafood!
  • coquinas: (Caribbean) - Tiny clams, for chowder!

Donax variabilis
Southern or variable coquina

Cellana exarata

Hawaiian Opihi
  • limpets: Called "Chinaman's hats" for their shape, they hold onto rocks very tightly. Example: "Opihi”, which lives in Hawaii.
  • Chitons: Example: Pacific Northwest Native Americans ate the Giant Pacific Chiton, which gets up to 300mm (12") long!!

Cryptochiton stelleri
Giant gumboot chiton

Turbo cornutus
Spiny top shell
  • Turban shells: ( Entire Indo-Pacific, but especially Japan, where if it comes from the sea, they will eat it!!!)
  • helmet shells:  These can grow very large indeed: a 300 - 350mm (12-14") Horned helmet from the Philippines could feed a whole family!!

Cassis cornuta
Horned Helmet

Tridacna gigas
Giant clam
  • giant clams: Although they are rare and protected today, just imagine the amount of meat a fat, 1300mm (nearly 4 feet!) Giant Clam could produce!!  The Bear Paw clam is still commonly eaten in the Philippines.
  • Busycon carica:  This is an important ingredient in the Italian dish called “scungilli marinara” and the Busycon is more commonly referred to as the Bulot shell.

Busycon carica

Knobbed Whelk

     Very few molluscs are actually poisonous, and a huge variety of them end up in cooking pots around the world - The animals that once lived in most ornamental shells sold in stores probably ended up that way!

     Man and Mollusc now has a Data Base under construction: I am attempting to list as many edible mollusc species as possible. You can also find a lot of information on specific shells being consumed, whether or not they are commercially harvested, being raised by aquaculturists and in a few instances, I've even included recipes. This is a bit advanced if you are under the age of about 12 years; but feel free to visit the data base. I hope you enjoy this new project. Avril

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