razor shell

Razor shell

Latin name:  Ensis ensis
Global Distribution: Northen Europe.
UK Distribution: Common on all British coasts.
Size: up to 20cm in males and 15cm in females
Diet: Suspension feeder
Habitat: Coarse sandy areas
Sources: http://www.marlin.ac.uk/biotic/browse.php?sp=4747
http://britishseafishing.co.uk/razorfish/ http://naturalhistory.museumwales.ac.uk/britishbivalves/browserecord.php?-recid=53

Known in Scotland as ‘spoots’ for the spouts of water they eject while burrowing into the sand, this mollusc is easily recognisable by its open razor shape. An edible saltwater clam, this remarkable little creature has a life span in excess of 10 years and in some cases up to 20 years. The razor shell burrows down into the sand and is rarely seen alive, only positioning an exit siphon above the surface to feed by extracting particles of organic matter from the water. When disturbed, the Razor Shell uses its large muscular foot to rapidly move deeper into the sediment. These clams prefer fine sand in the low intertidal and nearshore shelf and can be found all around the coast of the UK.

Spoots have become an increasingly popular dish following their use by celebrity chefs. Traditionally caught by hand, the razor shell burrow is easy to spot with its distinctive keyhole shape. Spoots are also fished with the use of dredged suction pumps and by ‘electro-fishing’. This fishing method involves using electricity to force razor clams out of their borrows, enabling divers to catch them easily. In the EU ‘electro-fishing’ is illegal, and in 2014, the Scottish government brought in new licensing laws to crack down on the tonnes of razor clams worth thousands of pounds being sold on the black market. 

Fun facts

  • They may leave distinctive keyhole shaped burrows in the sand as they dig down to escape danger.
  • Razor shells are vulnerable to germinoma, a type of tumour that affects germ (i.e. reproductive) cells.
Photo credit: By Uwe kils assumed (based on copyright claims). – No machine-readable source provided. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=223773