At less than a third of the size of the true giant clam (Tridacna gigas), the small giant clam (Tridacna maxima) deserves its name. As an adult, it has a large shell that adheres to a rock by its byssus – a tuft of long, tough filaments that protrude from a hole next to the hinge of the shell. When open, the bright blue, green or brown mantle is exposed and obscures the edges of the shell with its prominent and distinctively furrowed edges. The small giant clam is a bivalve mollusc, referring to the two valves on the mantle. These siphon water through the body to extract oxygen from the water using the gills, and to feed on algae(4). The attractive colours of the small giant clam are the result of pigment cells, which have a crystalline structure inside. These are thought to protect the clam from the effects of intense sunlight, or bundle light to enhance photosynthesis, the energy-producing process carried out by the tiny algae living within (4)(5).
A sessile mollusc, the small giant clam attaches itself to rocks or dead coral and siphons water through its body, filtering it for phytoplankton, as well as extracting oxygen with its gills. However, it does not need to filter-feed as much as other clams since it obtains most of the nutrients it requires from tiny photosyntheticalgae known as zooxanthellae (4).
Beginning life as a tiny fertilised egg, the small giant clam hatches within 12 hours, becoming a free-swimming larva. This larva then develops into another, more developed, larva which is capable of filter-feeding. At the third larval stage, a foot develops, allowing the larva to alternately swim and rest on the substrate. After eight to ten days, the larvametamorphoses into a juvenile clam, at which point it can acquire zooxanthellae and function symbiotically(4). The juvenile matures into a male clam after two or three years, becoming a hermaphrodite when larger (at around 15 centimetres in length) (4)(5). Reproduction is stimulated by the lunar cycle, the time of day, and the presence of other eggs and sperm in the water. Hermaphroditic clams will release sperm first, followed by eggs (4).
The small giant clam is collected in small numbers for the shell trade, and it is also eaten (2). In Asia, the muscle of the small giant clam is considered a delicacy, and the Bedouins around the Red Sea also eat this marine invertebrate(5).
It has been shown that numbers in protected regions are considerably higher than numbers outside these areas. Research into clam farming, as well as into the ecology, growth rates and reproductive behaviour of the small giant clam is necessary to understand the conservation needs of this species. The Tongan Government gives a limit for the minimum size that can be harvested (2).
To learn more about a Whitley Award-winning conservation project for this species, click here.
Simple plants that lack roots, stems and leaves but contain the green pigment chlorophyll. Most occur in marine and freshwater habitats.
Possessing both male and female sex organs.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Of the stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
In molluscs, a fold of skin that encloses a space known as the mantle cavity, which contains the gills. The mantle is responsible for the secretion of the shell.
An abrupt physical change from the larval to the adult form.
Belonging to a diverse group of invertebrates, mainly marine, that have one or all of the following; a horny, toothed ribbon in the mouth (the radula), a shell covering the upper surface of the body, and a mantle or mantle cavity with a type of gill. Includes snails, slugs, shellfish, octopuses and squid.
Metabolic process characteristic of plants in which carbon dioxide is broken down, using energy from sunlight absorbed by the green pigment chlorophyll. Organic compounds are made and oxygen is given off as a by-product.
Aquatic organisms that drift with water movements; may be either phytoplankton (plants), or zooplankton (animals).
Fixed and stationary.
Relationship in which two organisms form a close association, the term is now usually used only for associations that benefit both organisms (a mutualism).
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