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Expand your knowledge of the animal kingdom by learning about bivalves, a type of shelled animal that can be found all over the world in different water environments.

Then test yourself on your new knowledge.

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What Is a Bivalve?

You may have seen or even eaten an oyster or scallop. You likely know them as shellfish. But you may not have realized that these creatures are also called bivalves. A bivalve is an animal belonging to the class Bivalvia. The word ‘bivalve’ comes from the Latin bis (‘two’) and valvae (‘leaves of a door’). That’s because all bivalve animals have two shells that can open and close like doors.

Bivalves are aquatic animals, and different species of bivalves can be found in freshwater, saltwater and even brackish, slightly salty, water environments. They typically live on the seafloor, on seabeds or attach themselves to the sides of hard surfaces, like rocks or manmade pipes.These animals are abundant throughout the world, and because of their wide availability, they are a very commonly consumed form of seafood.

Characteristics of Bivalves

The most important feature of a bivalve is its two shells, called valves. These shells act like a protective armor, guarding the bivalve’s soft inner body parts. They can open their shells to move and feed, but at the first hint of a threat, they will rapidly close their shells.The muscle that helps them to close their valves is called the foot.

This foot isn’t like a human foot. Instead, it is a large muscle that joins the two valves together and helps to open and close them. In that respect, the foot moves much more like one of your hinged joints, like your knee or elbow.Another feature of bivalves is that, unlike many animals, they don’t have mouths and teeth with which to eat. Instead, they have a tube-like body part called a siphon that takes in microscopic particles of food dissolved in the water. The food goes then into the stomach for processing, and any oxygen in the water is passed along to their gills, which function similar to fish gills, for respiration.

Any waste products and gases, like carbon dioxide, are also passed out of the body using a different siphon. The siphon that takes in nutrients is often called the in-current siphon, whereas the wastes exit through the out-current siphon.It’s also worth noting that bivalves typically don’t have eyes.

Some have a few primitive eyes, but most do not. Considering that they often live in dirty, cloudy water, which has more particles for them to feed on, they probably wouldn’t be able to see most of the time anyway.

Examples of Bivalves

There are many species of bivalves, both currently living and fossilized. We’ve mentioned that oysters and scallops are examples of bivalves, but so are clams and mussels. These are the most common bivalves living today.Since they can be found all over the world in a variety of different aquatic environments, bivalves have been used as a human and animal food source for centuries. The advent of modern refrigeration and shipping has helped to increase the consumption of bivalves, as inland areas have gained access to seafood caught in far-off locations.

Now, millions of tons of wild-caught and farmed bivalves are consumed globally each year.Now, let’s take a closer look at these most common, currently living bivalves:

  • Clams are mollusks found in both freshwater and saltwater environments. They can live to be up to 500 years old and grow to more than 400 pounds.
  • Oysters are a type of saltwater clam, and some varieties produce pearls. Their filter-feeding abilities can be used to control microscopic algae blooms in waterways.
  • Mussels, like clams, are mollusks that can live in either freshwater or saltwater. An interesting fact about mussels is that some species can often be highly invasive and out-compete native mussels for food and habitat.

  • Scallops are perhaps best known for their use as food. However, they’re also commonly used as decorative sea shells.

Lesson Summary

A bivalve is an animal belonging to the class Bivalvia. Its name is a reference to the two shells, called valves, that protect its soft inner body parts. The valve is opened and closed using a muscle called a foot.They’re aquatic animals, and different species of bivalves can be found in freshwater, saltwater and brackish water environments.

Bivalves are filter feeders, consuming microscopic plant and animal materials. They take in their food and oxygen, and let out wastes, using tube-like body parts called siphons.Bivalves like clams, oysters, scallops and mussels are commonly used throughout the world as a source of food for both humans and other animals.

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