Stormy winter seas make for good beachcombing and while walking a strandline you might meet a member of the oldest species on Earth. This curious creature has an even more curious name: the ocean quahog, Arctica islandica. At first sight, though, it’s just a fairly plain, quite large and rounded clam. As with all clams, its shell is made up of two hinged parts called valves that protect the soft body parts inside. When fresh and alive, the ocean quahog is covered in a dark, skin-like layer called the periostracum, so it’s also known as a black or mahogany clam.
Older ocean quahogs can be over 5cm thick and 13cm long. Empty shells washed up on the shore are probably the closest most of us will get to seeing one, as the living animals bury themselves in sediment 4-500m underwater.
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