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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The government's air quality plan at a glance

This plan is largely a plan to make more plans.

Do you plan on living in a small, rural hamlet for the next 23 years? Or postponing having children till 2040? For this is when the government intends to ban all new petrol and diesel cars (and vans) - the headline measure in its latest plan to tackle the UK's air pollution crisis.

If the above lifestyle does not appeal, then you had better hope that your local authority is serious about addressing air quality in your area, because central government will not be taking responsibility for other restrictions on vehicle use before this date. Former Labour leader Ed Miliband has tweeted that he fears the ban is a “smokescreen” for the weakness of the wider measures. 

Here’s an overview of what the new Air Quality plan means for you (Health Warning: not much yet).

Will the 2040 ban end cars?

No. Headlines announcing the “end of the diesel and petrol car” can sound a pretty terminal state of affairs. But this is only a deadline for the end of producing “new” fossil-fuel burning vehicles. There is no requirement to take older gas-guzzlers (or their petrol-head drivers) off the road. Plus, with car companies like Volvo promising to go fully electric or hybrid by 2019, the ban is far from motoring’s end of the road.

So what does the new plan entail?

This plan is largely a plan to make more plans. It requires local authorities to submit their own initial schemes for tackling the issue by the end of March 2018 and will provide a £255 million Implementation Fund to support this process. Interventions could include retrofitting bus fleets, improving concessionary travel, supporting cyclists, and re-thinking road infrastructure.  Authorities can then bid for further money from a competitive Clean Air Fund.

What more could be done to make things better, faster?

According to the government’s own evidence, charges for vehicles entering clean air zones are the most effective way of reducing air pollution in urban areas. Yet speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Michael Gove described the idea as a “blunt instrument” that will not be mandatory.

So it will be down to local authorities to decide how firm they wish to be. London, for instance, will be introducing a daily £10 “T-charge” on up to 10,000 of the most polluting vehicles.

Does the 2040 deadline make the UK a world leader?

In the government’s dreams. And dreamy is what Gove must have been on his Radio 4 appearance this morning. The minister claimed that was in Britain a “position of global leadership” in technology reform. Perhaps he was discounting the fact that French President Emmanuel Macron also got there first? Or that India, Norway and the Netherlands have set even earlier dates. As WWF said in a press statement this morning: “Whilst we welcome progress in linking the twin threats of climate change and air pollution, this plan doesn’t look to be going fast or far enough to tackle them.”

Will the ban help tackle climate change?

Possibly. Banning petrol and diesel cars will stop their fumes from being released in highly populated city centres. But unless the new electric vehicles are powered with energy from clean, renewable sources (like solar or wind), then fossil fuels will still be burned at power plants and pollute the atmosphere from there. To find out how exactly the government plans to meet its international commitments on emissions reduction, we must wait for the 2018 publication of its wider Clean Air Strategy.

Will the plans stand up to legal scrutiny?

They're likely to be tested. ClientEarth has been battling the government in court over this issue for years now. It’s CEO, James Thornton, has said: “We’re looking forward to examining the government’s detailed plans, but the early signs seem to suggest they’ve still not grasped the urgency of this public health emergency.”

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.