Disco Clams, Toxic-Spewing Strobe Lights of the Sea

by Owen James Burke


Photo: Lindsey Dougherty.

The disco clam (Ctenoides ales) is a tiny reef-dwelling bivalve that exists throughout the Indo-Pacific.

This flashy little mollusk uses an array of 40 eyes along its mantle (the gasket-like membrane lining the inner edge of its shell) almost like a scallop. Its eyes reflect ambient light, putting on a colorful show for those within eyeshot.

The dazzling display both attracts and deters other organisms, but when the 6-centimeter clam is unable to get the message across, it can also spew a toxic mucus containing sulfuric acid (yeah, the stuff in car batteries and drano).

One common attendee during the spectacle (which is just about 24/7) is the voracious mantis shrimp, only it doesn’t approach the clam to feast:

It’s unclear what, exactly, the clam makes of this.

Despite their bright displays, disco clams are not easily found or studied, explains University of California at Berkeley PhD student Lindsey Dougherty, who’s constructing her thesis on the disco clam:

“You look for a hole on the reef, you go inside and then you look for smaller holes – that’s where you might find them. They hide really well.”

Read more at New Scientist. –OJB

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