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New York State Shell: The Bay Scallop

Posted by Jody on February 16, 2012

The bay scallop is quite a colorful find.  These beach treasures vary from dark grey to black and brown, often with shades of  red, orange, yellow, and white.  Harvested for food since colonial times, the adult bay scallop can grow to approximately 3 1/2 inches in diameter. This bivalve prefers calm, protected waters rich in sea grass.  According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “Scallops are often most abundant on tidal flats with only 0.3 to 0.6 m (1 to 2 ft) of water at low tide.” Filter-feeders, their diet consists of marine plankton.

A bay scallop in its natural habitat. (Image Credit: NOAA, Judd Kenworthy)

The bay scallop (Argopecten irradians), also known as the Atlantic bay scallop, was adopted as the State Shell of New York in 1988. According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, “In New York, bay scallops are mostly found in the small bays and harbors of Peconic Bay on the eastern end of Long Island, and have also been found in Great South Bay, Moriches Bay, and Shinnecock Bay. Their preferred habitats are shallow coastal bays and estuaries with sandy and muddy bottoms and eelgrass beds.” Although the bay scallop is an official state symbol of New York, its range is actually from Nova Scotia, Canada, to the Laguna Madre on the western Texas Gulf Coast.

Live Bay Scallop (Photo by Mayscallop/Wikimedia Commons)

Bay scallops have 18 pairs of eyes, used to detect movement and shadows.  These baby blue peepers are set along the border of each valve (shell).

Bay Scallop (Image:PD-USGov-FWS) Left: external view, Right: internal

Here’s looking at you, kid!

Would you like more information on the bay scallop? For oodles of facts on everything from their diet to their life cycle and environmental requirements, you might want to check out this very thorough report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Species Profiles: Life Histories and Environmental Requirements of Coastal Fishes and Invertebrates (Mid Atlantic) – Bay Scallop)

Happy beachcombing!

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