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There are many species of clams living in Barnegat Bay.



Hard Clams




Life Cycle


Ark Clams


Soft Shell Clams

 Hard Calm or Northern Quahog                     Mercenaria mercenaria

The hard clam, or northern quahog has long been a main stay of New Jersey’s coastal communities. Since the resources of the rich coastal bays were first harvested, the clam captured a strong hold in the fresh seafood market and the hearts of the summer residents.

When you think of "clams" in Barnegat Bay, usually it is the hard clam. 

When in a seafood store or supermarket you can buy "Little Neck", "Top Neck",  "Cherrystone" or "Chowder" clams all of which refer to different sizes of hard clams.

In the bay, they start life when sperm and egg unite and develop into a larvae.  The larvae are free swimming until the shells develop and they drop to the mud or sand of the floor of the bay where they burrow in. Once there, they remain buried extending siphons to draw in water which provides a supply of microscopic plankton as well as oxygen.  They digest the nutriments and expel non-digestible and waste material.

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Soft Shell Clam                                               Mya arenaria

The soft shell clam has thin, oval, elongated shells. 
The shells are chalky white with a thin, parchment-like covering that varies in color from brownish to yellowish to gray.
When closed, the shells gape at both ends and a foot and two siphons protrude from either end.  Both siphons are enclosed in a leathery membrane.
The left valve has a spoon-like depression at the hinge.
Soft shell clams grow to about 3 to 4 inches

Fun Fact - Soft Shell Clam are also known as "steamers", "piss clams", "softshells", "longnecks" and in New England "Ipswich clams" or "Essex clams" (towns in Massachusetts)

Fun Fact - The term "piss clams" comes from the fact that because the siphon often
sticks up through the sand and the clams unwittingly revealing their location by spurting water.

Fun Fact - Unlike most other clams, the soft shell clam cannot completely retract its siphon into its shell.

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Atlantic Jackknife Clam or Razor Clam           Ensis directus

Razor clams average in size between 5-9 inches. Their length is about 6 times their width.  They ranges from yellowish to dark brown in color.

They are found in the sand and mud, and are usually dug for by hand but they are hard to catch because of the speed at which they can burrow into the bay bottom

They have a sweet flavor that is similar to a lobster, but with the same texture and consistency of a clam. They can be consumed raw (on the half-shell), steamed, fried, or cooked in a chowder.

Fun Fact - because of its streamlined shell and strong foot, razor clams can burrow in wet sand very quickly, and also have the ability to swim.

Stout Tagelus              Tagelus plebeius

The Stout Tagelus (also called the stout razor clam) is similar to the Atlantic Jackknife clam but its shape is shorter and wider.

They grow to about 3 inches in length with the shell being 3 times longer than it is wide.

They can burrow very rapidly by extending its strong, muscular foot into the bay bottom and pulling the shell down after it. This species builds a permanent burrow in mud or fine sediment, that will have a J-shape and the end curved upward.                                                                        <click on image to enlarge>

<click here for other image>

Ark Clams                     Family: Arcidae

Ark Clams are members of family Arcidae, thus the name "ark".  Characteristics are thick and heavy shells, with a predominantly radiating sculpture.

Arcidae have a taxodont hinge, and the hinge plate is straight, with the teeth increasing in size away from the umbo.

Most species live attached to stones with their byssus, but some live in sand.

    More about Arc Clams >>>  <click here> to learn more

Surf Clams              

The surf clam is the most important commercial species of clam in the United States account for about 70% of all clams commercially harvested.

Atlantic Surf Clam        Spisula solidissima

The Atlantic Surf Clam is the largest clam on the Atlantic coast. They are not typically found in Barnegat Bay but are abundant in the ocean waters off of Island Beach and Long Beach Island.

Surf clams range from the beach to a depth of about 200 feet, but their abundance is low in waters deeper than about 130 feet.

Surf clams reach harvestable size in about six years. They can reach up to 8 inches, but clams larger than 7 inches are rare.

Adult clams prefer to live in fine to medium grained sandy sediment. This may be in a nearshore location or in open waters that have suitable sandy bottoms, to the 130 foot depth.

Adult surf clams dig into the sandy bottom and normally stay in one location. The ocean, especially near the beach, is much more turbulent than the bay. Storms, waves and strong currents can move them around but they can establish themselves in a new location if the bottom conditions are right.  If they can't dig in, they become vulnerable to  predators.

Little Surf Clam or Dwarf Surf Clam           Mulinia lateralis        

Little surf clams are common in the shallow waters of the bay and contrary to what their name suggests, they do not live in the surf.

These tiny clams only grow to about 3/4" in length and live about two years.



Stout Tagelus and Little Surf Clam - Jo O'Keefe

Live Stout Tagelus -  Jacksonville Shells -