Indigenous Peoples along Pacific and Atlantic coasts consumed clams and used them for many purposes, including making tools and utensils and as currency and decoration. Cultures living in the interior are also reported to have eaten clams that they acquired through trade with coastal peoples. Cultures with reliable access to shellfish, especially clams, were often insured against famine and hunger [30, 33, 44, 51].
Although many coastal cultures collected clams to supplement their diet, some cultures depended greatly on clams for survival [1, 2]. Squamish, Nuxalk, Tlingit, Southeast Alaskan cultures and Inuit of Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) are reported to have relied on clams as an essential part of their traditional diets [3-6]. Although clams are still eaten frequently today, they do not play the same role in the diets of Nuxalk and Qikiqtarjuaq Inuit as they did in earlier times [7, 8]. Clams were also a regular part of the Salish, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Kitimat (Haisla) and Huron diets [9-13] and the Huron are reported to have often consumed clams more than meat . The Tsimshian used clams to a great degree and clams were the main shellfish gathered and eaten by Western Coast Obsidian and Coast Salish [15-18]. In fact, they were so important to Coast Salish that this culture may have chosen village sites based on access to nearby clam beds . The Tlingit are reported to have eaten small clams and commonly called them tsikw [47, 48]. The Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) used canoes to collect small clams . Clams were sometimes gathered by Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Haida, Haihais, Bella Bella (Hieltsuk), Oowekeeno (Hieltsuk) and Beothuk [21-25]. The Kwakiutl generally associated gathering clams with poverty; nevertheless the shellfish were an important food source for them at certain difficult times in the past . The importance of clams to various prehistorical cultures is evident by the large quantity of clamshell remains of various species found at shell middens and archeological sites along the coasts [17, 19, 26, 27].
The Nuxalk name for clams was ts’ikwa while Algonquin referred to clams and some other shellfish collectively as e’sis [7, 21, 70].
Clams were an accessible, plentiful and reliable resource for many cultures [29-31]. They were collected from the intertidal zone during low or ebb tides. Clam digging was often a productive activity: little effort usually resulted in a substantial harvest [16, 31-38]. During winter, torches were used to dig clams, as low tides often occur after dark in this season [6, 34].
While many cultures gathered clams in certain seasons, some gathered them throughout the year and others relied on them during times of food scarcity. The Nootka could collect clams throughout the year but only harvested them at certain times if the weather was favourable [29, 33, 39-41]. Some cultures of the northwest coast including Makah, Coast Salish and Kyuquot, gathered clams predominantly during winter when food stores were low or hunting and fishing activities were challenged by poor weather [12, 13, 31, 32, 34, 36, 42]. Another reason some cultures collected clams primarily in winter may have been due to fear of shellfish poisoning during summer [6, 33, 43]. The Kyuquot and Nootka avoided them in March when the herring spawned and released milt [33, 43]. Other cultures did collect clams in warm seasons. Some Pacific cultures collected large quantities of clams during summer, most likely to dry for winter . The Coast Salish considered clams to be at their best in summer, Tlingit gathered clams March though August and Nuxalk collected them throughout the year [7, 38, 46-48]. Clams were a major source of subsistence in spring for the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Nova Scotia .
There were many clam beds along the coast; however concentration, quality and vulnerability to toxins varied [6, 37, 41, 49]. Clam beds provided a renewable resource throughout the year and were visited regularly [1, 37, 41]. Many Northwest Coast Indigenous Peoples cultivated clams using constructed intertidal terraces [84, 85]. Puget Sound was a well-known location that Coast Salish visited . Nootka clam beds at Nuchatlitz, and Kwakiutl clam beds at Port Rupert were well known [29, 50]. The Squamish regularly frequented Burrard Inlet, Nuxalk gathered clams from specific locations, the Passamaquoddy collected clams off of nearby Islands and Alaskan Indigenous People found plentiful clam beds at Copper River [9, 51-53]. At Port Simpson excellent clam beds were known at Burnt Cliff Island, Finlayson Island, Canoe Pass, South Pass, Georgetown Millsa, Stumaun Bay, Wales Island, Steamer Passage, Winter Harbor, Work Channel, Pearl Harbor and Whiskey Bay. Clams were usually found on sandy or pebbly beaches as well as mud flats . Depending on location and quality, it was often more profitable to visit clam beds a few times a year and take a large harvest than many small harvests. This was especially true for the months when clams were dried and stored in large quantities for winter provisions and trade. While most clam beds were public and potentially visited by several cultures, others belonged to a specific culture or family within a culture . It is reported that the best clam beds were owned by certain Salish families . Chuckanut Bay had good clam beds often frequented by the Nooksack, Lummi and Samish while the West Sound was frequented by the Lummi, Samish and Saanich . The Northern Coast Salish owned clam beds that they tended on a regular basis by moving rocks around .
The principal tool used to dig for clams was a simple stick made of a hard wood, usually yew [1, 6, 34, 37, 43, 49, 50, 54, 55]. Some cultures also used modified sticks. Some northwest coast Indigenous Peoples added two prongs to the end of the stick. The Nootka of Vancouver Island made a curved blade at the tip and used crabapple wood for the stick [29, 33]. Women collected and carried the clams in large woven baskets usually made of cedar bark withes or boughs and specially designed to allow water and sand to drain out [1, 6, 9, 29, 33, 41, 56]. To protect their backs from cold water draining out of the baskets they wore waterproof mats [6, 33]. They also laid out mats to kneel on while digging . The large basket was carried on their back and supported with a forehead band [29, 33]. Some women also carried a smaller hand basket . Men who helped usually used sacs that they carried over one shoulder and typically did not use kneeling mats .
Clam digging was part of the women’s gathering activities; however, men would sometimes help their wives especially during winter when the harvest occurred at night [1, 6, 23, 31-33, 43, 54, 55, 57, 58]. The clam drying season was often a family event . Today women gather clams for household uses and men usually gather clams for money, which is a source of family income as well as a means to pay off debt .
Clams were commonly consumed raw, boiled, baked, steamed, roasted and dried [34, 35, 58, 59]. Clams were initially cleaned in the collecting basket in the sea. Water ran through the basket, rinsing off sand and mud from the clams and keeping them fresh for several days . Although there was no real attempt to clean clams other than rinsing, some precautions were adopted before preparing and eating clams to avoid shellfish poisoning. Coast Salish removed the gills and cut off the tip of the siphon, believing that toxins were concentrated in these areas [6, 16]. If toxicity was suspected they did not waste time with small clams that were not worth the effort of dissecting . The Bella Coola (Nuxalk) discarded clams that had whiskers, and ones that caused a tingling sensation in the mouth when a small piece was tested under the lip .
The Kyuquot ate clams that were fried, steamed on hot rocks, boiled, or dried . Dried clams were always soaked and usually boiled by Tl’uhus (Klahuse) before they were eaten . Both fresh and dried clams were generally dipped into fish oil before eating [12, 16, 61]. Eulachon oil was typically used though butter has been used in more recent times [12, 16]. The Southeastern Alaskan cultures ate freshly boiled or roasted clams . Clam chowder or clam stew was made with fresh or dry clams. Dried clams were ground into small pieces with a mortar or fresh clams were pounded and boiled with seaweed and other local vegetables . The Eyak roasted clams over a fire with eggs . Inuit of Qikiqtarjuaq and Belcher Island typically ate raw or boiled clams [5, 60]. The Micmac usually roasted clams and subsequently smoked them if they were going to be stored .
A popular cooking method was steaming or baking in a pit [41, 48, 63, 64]. A fire was made in a shallow hole that was dug in the ground and covered with rocks. When the fire began to die, the edges of the pit were lined with large leaves and other leaves were put over the hot rocks. The clams were added and the pit was filled with more leaves and some water, and it was covered with mats or earth and left to cook [16, 37, 41, 48, 62-64]. Although this method was lengthy, taking from one to six hours, it was very useful since the clams did not need to be watched and could be left alone while the women tended to other tasks . Cooking this way also kept clams warm if they were not to be eaten immediately . The Coast Salish called the pit an imu and sometimes built a fire on top of the covered pit instead of inside [16, 62]. Different foods could be steamed in the pit at the same time. Seaweed, different leaves, or berries were sometimes added to impart flavor .
The Penobscot, Makah, Coast Salish and Tlingit often cured clams in large numbers for immediate consumption or for winter storage [19, 27, 31, 48, 62]. To prepare clams for winter, they were cleaned, steamed, shucked, strung or skewered onto sticks and roasted before drying or smoking them. Steaming and roasting clams prior to drying was a very effective method of preservation [12, 37]. North Coast cultures tenderized clams with a club before smoking them . The Salish also tenderized the roasted clams between mats and then strung them on circular string; when dried, they were sometimes worn as edible necklaces . Central and Northern Nootka made a type of dried clam cake by placing the roasted clams with berries between two boards and sitting on them to squash them, then drying them in the sun . Additional pressing or tenderizing removed excess moisture and facilitated drying .
The Coast Salish and Kwakiutl barbecued clams over a fire to cure them [12, 16]. They could be eaten immediately with oil, several days later, or subsequently dried for winter storage . To cure clams for later consumption, one could dry them in the sun in good weather, otherwise they were smoked over a fire or in a smoke house for more than a day [16, 27, 56, 61]. The Coast Salish skewered clams on sticks by piercing the body, wrapping the pallial muscles around the stick and piercing the siphon . The sticks were leaned on a support to roast by a fire and then cracked to hang on racks and dry . Cured clams were stored in a dry place in large wooden boxes, sometimes with oil, or tied together and hung from the roof [27, 30, 48, 58, 59, 61, 66]. Most people steamed clams before drying them; however the Coast Salish occasionally shucked and dried clams in the sun without previous cooking [37, 38, 67]. If the clam beds were a fair distance from the village, the Coast Salish cleaned and steamed the clams immediately on the beach .
The Cowichan, Nanaimo, Pentlatch, Comox, Slaiamun, Klahuse, Homalco, Sechelt, Squamish and West Sanetch Salish tribes used a slightly different method to cure clams. They steamed them on hot rocks instead of in a pit, roasted, flattened, and then dried them . The Cowichan, Nanaimo, Pentlatch, Comox, Squamish and West Sanetch cultures strung clams on a string tied into a circle, while the Slaiamun, Klahuse, Homalco, and Sechelt cultures skewered them on sticks .
The Eyak preferred to string clams on spruce roots instead of using sticks, and they made small wooden needles for this purpose .
Uses other than food
Clamshells were often used to make spoons or ladles. Northwest cultures including Makah, Nootka and Tlingit used deep clamshells to drink broth during a meal, to ladle out oil, or as containers and cups [6, 30, 31, 41, 54, 63]. Rough tools were also made from some clamshells . The Coast Salish used clamshells to scrape off the cambium from maple, alder and hemlock bark .
Around Actis, the Kyuquot women used clamshells to make patterns on glass, jewelry, and decorations. Kyuquot women taught local school children their craft as a pastime . The Tlingit used clamshells to make jewelry, ornaments, decorate headdresses, clothing and baskets [6, 26].
Clams were a form of currency for many coastal cultures [15, 26]. At Willapa Bay both Chinookans and the Southwestern Coast Salish collected and dried clams in large quantities to trade to cultures in the east [18, 68]. Coast Salish women acquired special baskets and bags from the interior by trading dried clams . The Gitksan (Gitxsan) had no access to the coast and depended on trade to obtain clams which they regarded very highly . The Tlingit bartered strings of dried clams for hides .
Clam digging was as much a social event as it was a productive harvesting task. The Micmac reunited in large groups to gather clams when they were abundant in spring . Tlingit families would feast over baked clams when they were collected in large numbers . They were also prepared at potlatches while the shells were burned and used as a lime source to chew with tobacco . November first initiated the clam season for Kwakiutl living in Gilford, which developed into a commercial and social center during clam digging months. Groups of visitors and locals moved to the beach where they gathered large numbers of clams for personal use as well as to sell to representatives of buyers in Vancouver .
At Grey Head, the Wampanoag held a yearly cranberry festival where they ate clams that were collected from Menemsha pond .
Coast Salish women were excellent clam diggers and could use their skill to boost their reputations . Alternately, the Tlingit associated digging for clams with laziness, damaged purity and low prestige .
Beliefs and taboos
Clams were regarded as living creatures and some regarded them as kindred spirits who lived in villages under the sea. The Coast Salish believed that the maiden of the seas, who watched over the fishermen and warned them of danger, was once a young girl who was caught by the clam people. She became a clam-person when she got stuck digging for clams when the tide came in. This myth is probably meant to avert children from digging clams when the tide is too high as well as to reassure villagers when their men are at sea in bad weather . The Squamish feared that clams would disappear if they were insulted and therefore were very careful while digging in order not to offend them . To the Tlingit, dreaming of clams signified poverty .
West coast cultures are reported to have consumed Washington butterclams in large quantities. They were the most popular type of clam collected by the Manhousat at the Openit Village, Coast Salish and the Obsidian and Queen Charlotte Straight cultures [15, 16, 26, 72-75]. Several refuse heaps along the west coast, including those in Alaska and the Tlingit shellfish middens at Daxatkanada, suggest that Washington butterclams were the most commonly eaten clam species by some cultures [6, 28, 76, 77]. Washington butterclam remains were found at several Southeastern Alaska sites and were probably one of the main shellfish in the diet .
Washington butterclams were available throughout the year; however some cultures preferred to collect at certain seasons. The Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island collected them in spring, Coast Salish gathered the majority of clams in August, to be kept for winter, the Kyuquot preferred to collect them in winter [34, 38, 43, 50, 61]. Beginning in November, the Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) collected large numbers for personal use and to sell .
The Manhousat did not have access to many Washington butterclam beaches but those that were known were frequented regularly and had reliable, productive beds. Some of these beaches included 7atlmalhhtak (double rocks bay), Flores Island, Ts’akmiis (water on both sides) and Tanaknit (place of mosquitoes). Ts’akmiis was by far the most important place and was where most clams were gathered that were to be dried . The Kyuquot had access to good butterclam beds found in the Kyuquot Sound in front of the Village of Actis, as well as MacKay’s Cove and Markale . The Coast Salish of Toba Inlet engaged in trade with other cultures in order to obtain dried butterclams, until they moved to Cortes Island where there were accessible clam beds at Gifford Island, Stopford Point and Squirrel Bay . The Southern Coast Salish gathered clams from the Strait of Georgia . Although most Washington butterclam beds were open to all, there were some that were owned and cultivated by specific families. The Central Coast Salish had ownership rights to the some of the best beds . Harvesting butterclams was a fruitful activity because they were large and easy to find: they were found close to the shore on sandy or gravel beaches about one to six inches below the surface .
Nootka are reported to have consumed Washington butterclams raw, boiled, steamed, roasted and dried . For Manhousat, boiling was the most frequent preparation; raw clams were infrequently eaten . Butterclams were put into large cedar-wood waterproof boxes with water, and hot rocks were added until the water started to boil [33, 73]. If they were roasted or steamed in a pit they were always carefully placed to preserve the juices in the shell, which helped cook the clams. The clam liquid was sipped from the shell or added to soup [33, 73]. The Manhousat dried clams, from August to September (mamiis); however they would delay the event if waters were murky and poison tides were suspected. The Manhousat had standards for clams: good quality clams were referred to as ich and lesser quality p’ich. Ich were large and without black marks; if these clams were exhausted in one location, then a search was made for new beds. During mamiis, the Manhousat would often construct semi-provisional shelters right on the beach used for sleeping, as well as cleaning and drying the clams. Shelters were canoes, simple huts without walls, or cedar-bark tents. Dried clams still on their skewers were soaked in water overnight to soften them. Roasted clams tended to be drier and were always eaten with oil, the others were frequently dipped into oil as well . The Nootka of Vancouver Island always removed the siphon tip and the Manhousat removed it as a courtesy [33, 73]. In later years, to steam and boil the clams, pots replaced the traditional pit or wooden boxes  and Manhousat made clam chowder by adding vegetables to the water used to boil the clams and adding the chopped up clams [16, 73].
The Salish traditionally steamed Washington butterclams and subsequently dried them if they were to be eaten at a later date [16, 37, 75, 78]. The Coast Salish would steam butterclams in a superficial pit where hot rocks lined the bottom and leaves lined the sides. The clams were placed on the hot rocks and the pit was covered with a tule mat for 60 minutes .
To dry butterclams, they were steamed, skewered, roasted and then strung and dried. Following these steps would preserve them for many months . To skewer the clams, long sharpened sticks were pushed through the siphon, into the adductor muscle, the body, and through the pallial muscles. The long skewers of clams were roasted by a fire and then hung to dry or smoked before they were packaged tightly into wooden boxes . The Salish also frequently smoked clams to dry them . In later years, Coast Salish used metal racks to roast clams and continued to string them and hang them to dry for personal use or to sell .
Coast Salish oiled their hair prior to clam digging; this practice was thought to bring clams to the surface with ease. They also spat on the first clam obtained to ensure a good harvest .
West coast cultures including Coast Salish, Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth), Manhousat and Obsidian and Queen Charlotte Straight cultures are reported to have consumed Pacific and fat gaper clams [15, 33, 37, 61, 72-75]. The Samish and Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) are reported to have relied on gapers as a vital food source [37, 79]. Gaper remains were found on Traders Island at Southeastern Alaskan sites and at shell middens along the Northwest Coast suggesting they were consumed by cultures in these areas [6, 77]. The Tlingit name for gapers was kalkatsk while the Manhousat name was 7amiik [48, 73].
Gapers were found year-round. Northern Coast Salish found gaper beds on beaches in the Strait of Georgia . Gapers were plentiful on Flores Island at a location known as Ii7aak, however only a minority of Manhousat gathered them as the unique flavor was not enjoyed by all. The Clayoquot had access to a beach near Tofino where gapers were abundant and greatly appreciated . The Skidegate Haida found gapers on Legace Island . On Samish Island several clam beds belonged to individual families that had inherited them . Many Coast Salish practiced ownership rights over specific clam beds. Each year the families would descend to the beach where they would set up temporary camps to cultivate and harvest clams for winter. More recently, permanent huts were set up on the beach for this purpose .
Central Coast Salish would dig for gapers in mud flats during low tides . Most gathering and curing took place in summer . Gapers rest several feet deep, but are easy to locate because their long neck and siphon sticks out above the surface . They are, however, difficult to harvest because they draw their necks and dig deeper into the sand when they feel vibrations or movement [16, 33, 73]. It is reported that you must be very quiet and carefully dig near a suspected clam for several feet. When the hole fills with water you can reach in and get hold of it or use a shovel. The Manhousat did not collect gapers as often as other types because of the increased effort required . Digging for gapers was typically a women’s task [16, 26, 29]. To facilitate digging they used a stick made of a solid wood with fire-hardened tips; in more recent times, a man-made contraption called a clam gun was used .
Gapers were steamed or dried (often with smoke) [33, 37, 73, 78]. They were usually cleaned directly on the beach where the siphon, stomach and gills were removed. The Coast Salish also washed them thoroughly and skinned the neck before cooking them . The Coast Salish and Manhousat steamed gapers in a superficial pit [61, 73]. Dried gapers were a staple in winter for the Coast Salish [75, 78]. The Coast Salish cut the shell open, skewered the clams on sharp sticks, roasted them, and then strung and dried them. According to the Manhousat, dried gapers did not keep very long and so they preferred to make chowders or to steam them . A single gaper was large enough to make a stew . Haida cooked them or dried them skewered on waxberry stems . The Kelsomat and Clayoquot are reported to have steamed them .
The Nootka, Manhousat and possibly Nanaimo Coast Salish used the large shells of gapers to fashion spoons, ladles for soup or cups [33, 73]. Coast Salish traded dried gapers with other cultures; for example, they traded with the Yakama for waterproof baskets and smoked salmon [37, 75].
The remains of large Pacific gapers found in middens at Daxatkanada suggest that they were used by the Tlingit . Pacific gaper clam remains were also found in large quantities at many middens along the northwest coast, suggesting that they were consumed frequently and/or in great numbers .
West coast Indigenous Peoples are reported to have enjoyed Pacific littleneck clams and gathered them frequently. The Obsidian and Charlotte Straight cultures and Coast Salish consumed them as a significant part of their shellfish diet [26, 61, 72, 75, 78]. Littleneck clam remains have been found at several Alaskan sites and in Tlingit shell middens at Daxatkanada [28, 77]. Pacific littleneck clam shells were also discovered in large numbers at many shell heaps along the Northwest Coast including Southeastern Alaskan sites suggesting that they were one of the main shellfish consumed [6, 77]. The Manhousat called them hichin . Pacific Littleneck Clams were found year-round, but Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) typically collected them in spring [34, 50]. Nootka and Manhousat often collected littleneck clams while digging for other species because they tended to be closest to the surface [50, 73]. Beaches in the Strait of Georgia had abundant littleneck clams .
Women typically gathered littleneck clams [16, 78]. Normally two inches wide, they lay near the surface of gravel and sand beaches [16, 73]. A rake, claw, or trowel was used to unearth them . Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw) collected littleneck clams in large numbers: they were required to be at least 1.5 inches long for commercial sale .
Often consumed raw, the meat was obtained by bashing two clams together and removing the broken shell fragments [33, 73]. The Coast Salish are reported to have eaten littleneck clams either raw, steamed, roasted, or dried [15, 37]. When eaten raw, the shells were broken on something hard and the meat was extracted. If they were to be dried for winter, they were first roasted . The Coast Salish also enjoyed littleneck clams steamed in a pit [16, 61]. They were typically prepared in similar ways to other clams; however they were too small to preserve for winter . Because of their small size, they were not cleaned and therefore not collected if the risk of shellfish poisoning was high .
Coastal cultures of British Columbia including the Coast Salish and Nootka (Nuu-chah-nulth) of Vancouver Island are reported to have eaten Atlantic jackknife clams [15, 50, 74]; however the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto harvested jackknife clams less than other clam species and the Wampanoag mainly used them for bait [71, 81].
Atlantic jackknife clams were found only in specific locations and unlike other species were quite difficult to obtain [3, 29]. They were usually gathered in spring and could be located by spotting their siphons in low tides . To be sold commercially they needed to be at least 3.5 inches wide .
Softshell clams were commonly eaten by east coast cultures . They are reported to have been a favorite of the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) and collected in large quantities [81, 82]. Softshell clams are one of the staple foods for Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) Inuit and were important for the Eastern Abenaki in winter when other foods were less available [5, 83].
Softshell clams were abundant at Cape Cod and were a frequently gathered shellfish. Even though they were not as abundant or important in Massachusetts, they were still used and consumed. Their availability was subject to natural disasters and storms that could bury beds resulting in very low numbers for subsequent years . They were found mainly on mud flats at low tides . The Micmac ate them on a regular basis in August and to lesser extent during the rest of the year .
The Wampanoag prepared softshell clams in a similar ways to the quahog; however they always removed the stomach . They were steamed, made into chowders, fritters, and pies, but never stored . Broughton Island Inuit always boiled or steamed them . Softshell Clams were also used as bait .
Northern quahogs, one of the most commonly eaten shellfish by east coast Indigenous Peoples, were readily available and gathered in large quantities from salt-water ponds by the Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto [26, 81]. Large numbers of shells have been found in shell heaps, providing evidence of their importance in earlier times. The northern quahog was the third most important shellfish consumed by the Wampanoag. In the 1940s they were still an important food for the Wampanoag and the most widespread shellfish . Previously found in large concentrations along the coast, by the 1950s they were rarely spotted between the Saint Lawrence and Cape Cod .
Northern quahogs were found in shallow water and rakes were used to dig them from the sand or gravel. They were stored in basements or places that were cool and dry. The Wampanoag would occasionally eat quahogs raw. Once a year a cranberry festival was held by the Wampanoag living at Grey Head where they would feast on clams and quahogs collected from Manemsha pond .
Northern quahogs were used as fishing bait in earlier times, but in more recent times, they were considered too valuable to waste as bait . A quahog shell was used to make a purple bead known as wampum that was used as local currency [26, 71, 81]. The Micmac used wampum to make friendship belts which were given as gifts between Christian indigenous communities .
East Coast cultures are reported to have frequently eaten Atlantic surfclams . The Wampanoag and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto believed the best time to search for the clams was during the low tide of a full moon. They were considered tough and were normally boiled and chopped up to make chowders and pies [71, 81]. The Wampanoag commonly used them as bait while the shells were used to make tools, hoes and scrapers . The Micmac used the shells for indoor and outdoor ornaments .
Remains of three clam species, kennerley venus, Alaska jingle, and pointed macoma, were found at the Tlingit shell middens at Daxatkanada .
Remains of the common jingle were found at Menemsha Pond, suggesting that they were once used by the Wampanoag .
Geoducks, referred to as twisted mouth clams by the Coast Salish , were consumed by some Southern Coast Salish; however some believed that eating a geoduck would result in a disfigured face [61, 75].
Remains of a clam called stout tagelus were found at Wampanoag shell heaps at Martha’s Vineyard .
Truncate softshell clam remains were found in large quantities at many middens along the Northwest Coast and at Daxatkanada suggesting they were consumed frequently and in great numbers by Tlingit and perhaps other cultures [6, 28].
Clams now referred to as white-sand macoma and bent-nose macoma, were known to the Coast Straits Salish as the soft-shelled clam .
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Clams occupy a broad range of marine habitats, from deep open coast to sheltered intertidal shores. In North America, along the Pacific coast, species of clams include among others, the Washington butterclam (Saxidomus gigantea), the Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii), the fat gaper (T. capax), and the Pacific littleneck clam (Protothaca staminea). Along the Atlantic coast, North American clams include, among others, the Atlantic jackknife clam (Ensis directus). The softshell clam (Mya arenaria) and the northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria) are found along both North American coasts. The French common name for clams is palourde.
In clams, unlike in oysters and scallops, the two valves have the same shape and two adductor muscles of the same size are attached at each end of each valve. The shell size, shape, thickness, and colour vary greatly between species. The typical shell, like in the northern quahog, is gray or brown, thick, rounded on one side and triangular on the other, with numerous shallow concentric rings (annual growth rings) running parallel to the hinge on the exterior and a glossy whitish interior. Some clams can grow quite big, like the Atlantic surfclam living for over 30 years and reaching shell length above 20 cm, others are slightly smaller, like the northern quahog and the softshell clam growing to 15 cm .
All clams burry themselves into the bottom substrate, preferably soft sand or mud, with the hinge upward and using their foot as an anchor. Most clams are buried only slightly, between 5 and 30 cm deep, like the northern quahog, the Atlantic surfclam, the softshell clam, the Washington butterclam, and the Pacific littleneck clam, while others can burry up to 1 m deep, like the geoduck. Even though they are buried, a number of predators feed on clams, including crustaceans, sea snails, sea star, turtles, various fish and birds, and some marine mammals, like sea otters and walruses. Clams, like other bivalve mollusks, are filter-feeders and can accumulate bacterial or viral agents, pollutants, or biotoxin produced by their food (dinoflagelates and diatoms) that can be harmful to human .
The Washington butterclam (Saxidomus gigantea) occurs in shallow waters along the Pacific coast from Alaska to California. They are part of a large family known as venus clams, with over 500 species including other North American clams like the Pacific littleneck clam (Protothaca staminea), the northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria), and the Kennerley venus (Humilaria kennerleyi). The Washington butterclam has a large, dark hinge, which contrasts with the whitish interior and exterior of the two oval shape valves. On the outside of the shell, there are pronounced concentric ridges showing annual growth. They can live for over 20 years and grow to about 15 cm long. Washington butterclams are most often buried in the substrate, around 30 cm deep, and are common in shallow intertidal waters, along sheltered beaches, rarely where water is deeper than 40 m. They spawn during the summer and four weeks after hatching the free-swimming larvae become establish on the substrate. Predators of Washington butterclams include sea stares, crabs, sea snails, and many marine birds and mammals .
Gapers are large clams represented in shallow waters along the Pacific coast by the Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii), mostly common around California, and the fat gaper (T. capax), most common north towards Canada and Alaska. Gapers have oval, whitish to yellowish shells with brown markings along the margin of each valve. Pacific gapers have longer and narrower shells compared to fat gapers. They are called gapers because each valve has a groove, through which permanently extends the siphon, and can not be completely closed. On the outside of the shell, there are pronounced concentric ridges showing annual growth. They both can grow up to 20 cm long and weigh close to 2 kg. They are most often buried in the substrate, up to 1 m deep in fat gapers, of intertidal zones where water is rarely deeper than 30 m. Pacific gapers spawn in the summer, while fat gapers spawn during the winter. Predators of the Pacific and fat gapers include sea snails, crabs, and sea stares [3-5].
The Pacific littleneck clam (Protothaca staminea) occurs in shallow waters along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to Mexico. They are part of a large family known as venus clams, with over 500 species including other North American clams like the Washington butterclam (Saxidomus gigantea), the northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria), and the Kennerley venus (Humilaria kennerleyi). Pacific littleneck clams have oval or heart-shaped shells that are whitish in colour with pronounced radial ridges and concentric annual growth rings. They live for up to 16 years, but grow quite slowly, rarely being much bigger than around 5 cm long. Pacific littleneck clams are most often buried, rarely deeper than 10 cm, in stable substrate, like packed sand, gravel, or mud. They occupy shallow intertidal shores and are rarely found where water is more than 10 m deep. In the northern part of their range, they spawn during the summer. Predators include sea snails, octopuses, and sea otters .
The Atlantic jackknife clam (Ensis directus) occurs along the North American Atlantic coast, from Florida to the St. Lawrence River. Their shells have a very particular jackknife shape, being elongated and narrow. They can grow to over 20 cm long and are most often found in holes in sandy bottoms of the intertidal and subtidal zones .
The softshell clam (Mya arenaria) occurs along the North American Atlantic coast, from Florida to Labrador, and was introduced along the Pacific coast, from Alaska to California. They are closely related to the truncate shoftshell clam (M. truncata), being in the same genus. Their shells are whitish gray, oval in shape, and can grow to around 15 cm. They can burry quite deep, up to 50 cm below the surface, and are most commonly found in the intertidal zone of estuaries .
The northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria) occurs along the North American Atlantic coast, from Texas to Newfoundland, and was introduced along the Pacific coast. They are part of a large family known as venus clams, with over 500 species including other North American clams like the Washington butterclam (Saxidomus gigantea), the Pacific littleneck clam (Protothaca staminea), and the Kennerley venus (Humilaria kennerleyi). In northern quahogs, shells are thick, roughly triangular, with many concentric rings, and can grow to around 10 cm. They are most often found buried in muddy or sandy sediment in waters reaching depths between 10-15 m .
Other North American species of clams include, along the Pacific coast, the Kennerley venus (Humilaria kennerleyi) , the Alaska jingle (Pododesmus macrochisma) , the pointed macoma (Macoma inquinata) , the bent-nose macoma (M. nasuta) , the white-sand macoma (M. secta) , and the geoduck (Panopea generosa) , while along the Atlantic coast, other clam species include the Atlantic surfclam (Spisula solidissima) , the truncate shoftshell clam (Mya truncata) , the common jingle (Anomia simplex) , and the stout tagelus (Tagelus plebeius) .
1. Gosling EM: Bivalve molluscs: biology, ecology and culture. Malden, MA, USA: Fishing News Books; 2003.
2. "Saximodus gigantea Deshayes, 1839." [http://eol.org/pages/491722]
3. “Horse clams.” [http://eol.org/data_objects/12777682]
4. “Tresus capax Gould, 1850.” [http://eol.org/pages/448802]
5. "Tresus nuttallii Conrad, 1837." [http://eol.org/pages/448803]
6. “Protothaca staminea Conrad, 1837.” [http://eol.org/pages/401135]
7. "Ensis directus" [http://eol.org/pages/448700/details]
8. "Mya arenaria Linnaeus, 1758." [http://eol.org/pages/492903/details]
9. "Mercenaria mercenaria" [http://eol.org/pages/492162/details]
10. "Humilaria kennerleyi Reeve, 1863" [http://eol.org/pages/401134]
11. "Pododesmus macrochisma Deshayes, 1839." [http://eol.org/pages/451966]
12. "Macoma inquinata Deshayes, 1855." [http://eol.org/pages/448734]
13. "Macoma nasuta Conrad, 1837." [http://eol.org/pages/448732]
14. "Macoma secta Conrad, 1837." [http://eol.org/pages/448735]
15. "Panopea generosa Gould, 1850." [http://eol.org/pages/440072]
16. "Spisula solidissima Dillwyn, 1817." [http://eol.org/pages/440072]
17. "Mya truncata Linnaeus, 1758." [http://eol.org/pages/492905]
18. "Anomia simplex d'Orbigny, 1853." [http://eol.org/pages/449678]
19. "Tagelus plebeius Lightfoot, 1786." [http://eol.org/pages/494209]