What is Surf Clam?

Laura Evans

The surf clam, of Spisula solidissima, is native to the oceans off the coast of the eastern United States, running from Maine to North Carolina. Also called the Atlantic surf clam, skimmer, hen clam. and bar clam, this clam is harvested year-round. Bar clams are the largest clams to grow on the Atlantic coast. Surf clams are known for their delicate, sweet taste.

Horseshoe crabs eat surf clams.
Horseshoe crabs eat surf clams.

The surf clam is fast growing, maturing in five to seven years. More oval or triangular in shape than round, surf clams grow to be between 4 and 8 inches (10.2 to 20.3 cm) long. Surf clams may grow more slowly in warmer waters. These clams can live for about 35 years.

A seagull will capture a surf and break it on a hard surface like concrete so they can eat the clam's flesh.
A seagull will capture a surf and break it on a hard surface like concrete so they can eat the clam's flesh.

Beds of sea clams can reach a depth of 164 feet (about 50 meters) under the water. Adult surf clams prefer to burrow into sand and rarely move unless seawaters dislodge them during storms or because of strong currents. A surf clam that pops up above sand will try to rebury itself as soon as possible.

Surf clams feed on plankton. In return, surf clams are eaten not only by human beings, but by horseshoe crabs, sea stars, and moon snails. In addition, sea gulls will take a surf clam and drop the clam on concrete or other hard surfaces so that the clam's shell breaks. The bird is then able to feast on the clam's flesh. Raccoons and foxes enjoy surf clams that wash ashore.

Skimmers can reach sexual maturity during their first year, but most won't spawn until their second year. Surf clams spawn twice a year, from the middle of October to the beginning of November and from the middle of July to the beginning of August. The clams deposit their eggs and sperm into the water. After about three weeks spent as floating larvae, the clams sink to the sandy bottoms to start their lives on the ocean's floor.

A surf clam is high in protein and relatively low in calories and fat. A 3.5 ounce (100 g) serving of surf clams has 67 calories. This clam consists of 13.5 percent protein and .5 percent fat. In addition, the serving contains .2 percent Omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to help protect the heart. Surf clams also contain selenium and niacin. Selenium is thought to help prevent cancer while niacin may help control the body's cholesterol levels.

Surf clams are sold canned, frozen, and fresh. Fresh surf clams are used as bait. People consume the surf clam in the forms of fried clam strips, chowders, and clam juices.

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