What Are Scallops?

Scallops are shellfish found in oceans around the world, they cover several species of saltwater clams and mollusks. The term scallop can be used to identify the meat found in a bivalve as found in restaurants.

If you have ever eaten seafood, you are probably familiar with scallops. But even if you do not, you might have come across scallop shells on the beach. But what exactly are scallops?

“Scallops are expensive, so they should be treated with some class. But then, I suppose that every creature that gives his life for our table should be treated with class.” — Jeff Smith

It is remarkable how little most people know about scallops, despite their popularity as a culinary delicacy.

What Kind of Animal Is A Scallop?

Because of their unusual appearance, some people do not realize that scallops are actually animals. But, what kind of animals are they?

Scallops are mollusks. Specifically, they belong to the group known as Phylum Mollusca. Other animals that are also Phylum Mollusca are sea slugs, snails, squid, octopi, mussels, oysters, and clams. Even more specifically, scallops belong to a group characterized as having two shells that are hinged together. These shells are made of calcium carbonate. Because of this defining characteristic, scallops and other mollusks like them are known as bivalves.

The acidification of oceans is thus threatening to scallops’ lives because it impairs their ability to build shells that would be strong enough for scallops to withstand the harsh oceanic living conditions.

Another surprising characteristic of scallops is that they have eyes. And they do not just have two eyes like most animals; they have actually approximately 60 eyes. Despite having so many eyes, scientists have found that scallops can only “see” motion, dark, and light. Very often, scallop’s eyes are bright blue.

Can Scallops Swim?

One surprising thing about scallops that most people do not know about is that they can and do swim. After all, scallops are sea creatures.

But it is true that other bivalves such as clams or mussels are not able to swim. So this is not only a surprising characteristic of scallops, but it is also one way in that they are set apart from other bivalves.

Having said that, not all scallops are able to swim freely under the sea. But most of them actually do.

So, how do scallops swim? They do not have flippers or fins, so how do they actually do it? The way the scallops swim is by clapping their two shells in fast motion, which propels them forward wherever they want to go in the ocean. Their quick movements cause jets of water to go through their shell hinge. Surprisingly, scallops are able to swim relatively fast.

How Can You Recognize a Scallop? 

If you go to the ocean shore often, you have probably already come across scallops on the sand.

In fact, most people’s idea of a “seashell” is nothing but a scallop shell. Scallops valves or shells have a very recognizable shape: they look something like fans. Sometimes they also have ridges, also known as ribs.

In their hinge area, scallop shells look like they have two ears. In fact, these are auricles.

“Give my scallop shell of quiet, my staff of faith to walk upon, my scrip of joy, immortal diet, my bottle of salvation, my gown of glory, hope’s true gage: and thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.” — Sir Walter Raleigh

Christians and, specifically, Catholics may also recognize scallop shells as they are the emblem of St. James. The reason for this is that the apostle James was a former fisherman in the town of Galilea. Even in modern days pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain where Catholics believe that St James is buried, very often wear or carry scallop shells. The roads leading to Santiago are marked by scallop shells so that pilgrims coming from other parts of Spain, Portugal or France know which way to follow.

Where Can Scallops Be Found? 

Actually, scallops’ presence is not reduced to a specific part of the world. They are found in every ocean, worldwide. But not only that, while some of them live close to the shore, scallops can also be found in the deep ocean.

As a species, scallops do not have a strong preference for either sandy or rocky surfaces and can, therefore, be found on both indistinctly.

How Big Are Scallops?

Depending on where they live, scallops can range from 4 to 9 inches long. Often the ones living close to shore are smaller.

How Do Scallops Reproduce?

A major difference between male and female scallops is the color of the reproductive organs. Male scallops have white reproductive organs, while their female counterparts have red ones.

Having said all of that, it is also true that many of them actually have both male and female reproductive organs. In other words, many of them are considered hermaphrodites. But that is not the case with all of them, by far, as many others also have either male or female reproductive organs.

The way in which scallops reproduce is known as spawning. What this means is that male scallops release sperm into the seawater, while female scallops release their eggs (hermaphrodite scallops release both eggs and sperm).

That is how eggs are fertilized. First, the new scallop is planktonic for a while but, eventually, it settles on the ocean floor, using byssal threads to attach itself to the floor. Once it has grown enough, the young scallop will lose its byssal threads and begin to swim freely.

What Do Scallops Eat?

Scallops eat pretty much any small sea organism that they come across. Seawater constantly enters the scallop through the space between its two shells. Its mucous then traps the plankton and then using cilia, the scallop moves the trapped organisms into its mouth.

I Do Not Recognize Scallops From This Description

I would not blame you if you struggled to recognize the scallops you eat in fancy seafood restaurants in our description of their main characteristics.

Buy the best you can find or afford and don’t over manipulate it. If I cook a scallop, the best praise you can give me is that it tastes like a scallop. Tom Colicchio.

That is why what is served as scallops in those restaurants is not a whole scallop but only part of it. What is served is actually the strong muscle that scallops use to clap their shells in order to swim. The reason for this is that this muscle is the only fleshy and, therefore, edible part of a scallop. “Scallops” can be mainly cooked by baking, deep-frying, broiling, or grilling them.