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.

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Skellig Michael is hardly an island - but it's the one I love most

On a rock in the Atlantic, I felt the magic of place.

I am on the vaporetto from Marco Polo Airport to the Venetian island of San Giorgio Maggiore, gulls and terns drifting back and forth over the boat, cormorants on the docks, wings spread to the sun, that late August light, unique to this place, shimmering over the waters. I haven’t been here in 20 years but I remember the greys and silvers of the terns (four species are recorded here, including the black tern, Chlidonias niger, which I find particularly elegant in flight) and the miles of tantalising reed beds, where anything might be hiding – only the city, when it finally emerges from the haze, is more postcard than recollection.

It’s a mental flaw, I suppose. I remember habitation in a formal, almost abstract way, whereas light – which is always unique to place – and flora and fauna are vivid and immediate to my mind. At the same time, every approach by water, anywhere in the world, reminds me of every other, whether it’s the crossing from Staten Island to Manhattan or the ferries that run up the coast of Norway, stopping in at one tiny harbour town after another along the way. So it comes as no great surprise, as I disembark, that I find myself remembering the island landing that I love more than any other, even though I have made that passage only once.

Skellig Michael is hardly an island. A thin needle of rock soaring more than 600 feet high straight out of the Atlantic, seven miles from the Kerry coast, it was once refuge to those contemplative monks whose desire for undisturbed reflection reached such an extreme that they braved the choppy waters common in these parts in simple coracles to settle, in tiny beehive huts, at the windy summit of the Skellig. On the day I made the crossing, most of the charter skippers refused to go out, citing the stormy weather, but I finally managed to persuade one man – whose name really was Murphy – to make the voyage and, though the water was indeed rough, the approach to the island and the hours I spent ashore were nothing short of beatific.

Nobody else was there, apart from two archaeologists who kept to their billet in the one stone house by the quay and the rabbits that had run wild and multiplied after the monks left. Halfway up the needle, I turned oceanwards as a pure light cut through the clouds, illumining the sky and the water so the horizon looked like one of those mysterious sea photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

All through the crossing, gannets had swarmed noisily over the boat in spite of the weather, before dropping back, disappointed, to their colony on Michael’s sister rock, Little Skellig. Up here, however, at the top of the needle, everything was calm, almost silent, and inside the first of the beehive cells it was utterly still. I have no time for gods, as such, but I know that I was touched by something in that place – something around and about me, some kind of ordering principle that, though it needed no deity to give it power, was nevertheless sublime.

Back in Venice, as I changed boats at San Zaccaria, the noise and the crowds and the now golden light on the water could not have offered a greater contrast. Yet what was common to both landings was that quality of unique to this place, the sensation of the specific that makes any location – from gilded Venice to a bare rock, or a post-industrial ruin – magical. As long as we have such places, we have no real need of outside agency: time and place and the fact of being are enough.

Place, first and foremost, is what we all share, living and dead, in our griefs and our visions and our fleeting glory. It is what we should all strive to protect from the blandishments of commerce and the appropriations of agribusiness and other polluting enterprises, not just here, or there, but wherever our ferry boat puts in.

Next week: Felicity Cloake on food

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses