The horrifying truth behind the "horrifying clam" video

In a shocking twist, it's humans who are the real monsters.

You may have already seen the video below being passed around. It purports to show a clam eating salt, and is usually accompanied by a comment on the horrifying appearance of the shellfish. 

Certainly, it does look rather creepy; the long, pale tongue which sweeps the table is offputting, to say the least. But what is really horrifying is that you are actually watching the execution by torture of an animal which may be almost two centuries old. You monsters.

The first hint should be that the natural habitat of a clam is not someone's kitchen table. This clam has been cruelly kidnapped, and placed in the middle of a domestic environment which is as alien to it as the bottom of the ocean is to us. But some basic clam anatomy (clamatomy?) will tell you something else: clams don't have tongues.

Clams – indeed, almost all bivalves – are filter feeders. They brush water over their gills to capture plankton, which they then digest. What you are seeing the clam in the video extend is actually its foot, which is normally used to bury the bottom-dwellers beneath the ocean floor.

Obviously, this clam isn't going to dig itself particularly deep into the hardwood table which it has been placed on. As an inhabitant of the intertidal zone, it is used to being in the dry, and it thinks that what must be sand beneath is the safest place to be until it gets wet again. But when it extends its foot to dig, it hits salt. Have you ever rubbed salt in a wound, or poured salt on a slug? The inside of a clam is not much different; touching the salt is not something it likes to do. So it retracts its foot, and sits, waiting for the tide to come in, and hoping it isn't picked off by a seagull.

But there's one more shocking twist. Based on extensive wikipedia research years of clamology, I believe this to be a clam of the species Arctica islandica, commonly known as the Ocean Quahog, which can be found all along the east cost of the US. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, specimens have been known to live for 225 years.

This clam, dying an ignoble death in the kitchen of eBaum's World user "DataRapist", could have spoken to George Washington himself. Farewell, gentle clam.

A page from a 1908 biology textbook, showing all the other clams you probably want to torture to death.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

BBC/Chris Christodoulou
Show Hide image

Proms 2016: Violinist Ray Chen was the star of a varied show

The orchestra soaked up his energy in Bruch's first violin concerto to end on a triumphal note. 

Music matters, but so does its execution. This was the lesson of a BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Symphony Chorus programme which combined both a premiere of a composition and a young violinist’s first performance at the Proms. 

The concert, conducted by Sir Andrew Davis, opened with Tchaikovsky’s symphonic fantasy The Tempest, a lesser-known sibling to his Romeo and Juliet overture. The orchestra got off to a fidgety start, with some delayed entries, but fell into line in time for the frenetic chromatic runs that drive the piece. The end, a muted pizzicato, was suitably dramatic. 

Another nature-inspired piece followed – Anthony Payne’s composition for chorus and orchestra, Of Land, Sea and Sky. Payne drew on his memory of watching of white horses appearing to run across water, as well as other visual illusions. At the world premiere, the piece began promisingly. The chorus rolled back and forth slowly over scurrying strings with an eerie singing of “horses”. But the piece seemed to sink in the middle, and not even the curiosity of spoken word verse was enough to get the sinister mood back. 

No doubt much of the audience were drawn to this programme by the promise of Bruch violin concerto no. 1, but it was Ray Chen’s playing that proved to be most magnetic. The young Taiwanese-Australian soloist steered clear of melodrama in favour of a clean and animated sound. More subtle was his attention to the orchestra. The performance moved from furious cadenza to swelling sound, as if all players shared the same chain of thought. Between movements, someone coughed. I hated them. 

Ray Chen in performance. Photo: BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Chen’s playing had many audience members on their feet, and only an encore appeased them. It was his first time at the Proms, but he'll be back. 

The orchestra seemed to retain some of his energy for Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region. Composed between 1904 and 1906, this is a setting of lines by the US poet Walt Whitman on death, and the idea of rebirth.

The orchestra and chorus blended beautifully in the delicate, dark opening. By the end, this had transformed into a triumphal arc of sound, in keeping with the joyful optimism of Whitman’s final verse: “We float/In Time and Space.” 

This movement from hesitancy to confident march seemed in many ways to capture the spirit of the concert. The programme had something for everyone. But it was Chen’s commanding performance that defined it.