giant clam, common name for the largest bivalve mollusk in the world, Tridacna gigas, also known as the bear's paw clam. The giant clam may weigh over 500 lb (225 kg) and attain a length of over 4 ft (120 cm). The heavy shell is coarsely fluted and toothed. Giant clams are found in the South Pacific and Indian oceans, especially in the Great Barrier Reef. They lie with the hinge downward in the coral reefs, usually in shallow water. The adductor muscles, which cause the shell to close, are a source of food for people of the South Pacific. The shell closes very slowly; stories of human beings trapped within giant clams have never been substantiated. Small giant clam shells have been used as birdbaths and baptismal fonts. An interesting symbiosis occurs between a unicellular green alga ( Zooanthella ) and the clam. The algae live in the tissues of the clam's siphon and mantle; they are able to obtain the sunlight needed for photosynthesis because the clam lies with its valves opening upward and part of the thick, purple mantle extruding over the shell. In addition, there are crystalloid vesicles on the mantle surface that let in sunlight, thus allowing the algae to live deep within the tissues. The clam uses the algae as a supplementary or perhaps even a major source of food. Tridacna gigas is classified in the phylum Mollusca, class Pelecypoda or Bivalvia, order Eulamellibranchia, family Tridacnidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.