Saving the Magnificent Pacific Gaper

April 15th, 2012 | by | 1 Comment
Published in Intertidal Zone, Sea Shore, Shellfish
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It is not often that you see a living horse clam on the surface of the beach unless you have taken the effort to dig one out yourself. That’s why Jocie and I initially thought that the Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii) that we found at Miracle Beach was dead. We quickly realized otherwise after touching the extended siphon and watching it retract (as much as it was able) into the protection of the its two shells.

Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii)

A Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii) found stranded on the sand at Miracle Beach on Vancouver Island.

The Pacific gaper is a fascinating clam and this was a great opportunity to take a closer look at a living specimen. The body of the clam was so large that it seemed as if the two shells could not close completely and the opening where the foot protrudes was visible (hence the name “gaper”). The siphon had two openings: the clam takes in water containing oxygen and food in one opening and expels waste water through the other. The siphon was also too large to completely retract into the shell.

Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii)

A view of the Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii) showing how much of the clam is still exposed outside of the shell.

Clams usually live their lives under the sand, mud or cobble in which they are found. The siphon extends up through the substrate and is often the only sign of the bivalve below. When they are on the surface, clams are vulnerable to predators like sea gulls and small children (and adults) and to environmental threats like dessication and abrasion.

Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii)

From the side, the Pacific gaper (Tresus nuttallii) has an oblong, almost oval shape. The brown, peeling, varnish-like skin on the shell is called periostracum.

I took a few quick photographs of this Pacific gaper before attempting to bury it back down beneath the sand, using an old empty horse clam shell as a digging tool. These clams are generally found at a depth of 30 cms or more and it was challenging to dig down that far because of the wet sand and rocks. Clams begin life as tiny free floating larva after the hatch from eggs. When they settle to the bottom of the ocean they are small enough that they are able to work their way down to a safe depth. Mature clams the size of this horse clam would not be able to do this on their own.

I hope that this magnificent clam manages to survive its “replanting, but it probably would have been better if it hadn’t been dug up in the first place. Touching the exposed siphon tips of naturally buried horse clams is entertaining enough and you can get an idea of what the animal looks like by examining the shells you find on the beach. There really is no reason to dig these amazing bivalves up!


  1. Island Nature  :: Green Burrowing Anemones says:

    May 14th, 2012 at 9:39 pm (#)

    […] to the sand flats beyond.In the stretch of sand just beyond where the rocks end we usually find the siphons of horse clams. This time we noticed something similar, but a little different. The round dimple in the the sand […]

Record a Comment


Related Posts

Follow Island Nature

Subscribe to Island Nature via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 124 other subscribers

Island Nature on Tumblr

  • photo from Tumblr

    Amphitrite Point

    I’ve been focused on getting good clouds and colour at sunset lately but sometimes getting both is a matter of luck. Tonight I decided to give Amphitrite Point another try. I had been there earlier in the week but really struggled - the tide plays a huge role in defining the shape of elements in the composition since water level can cover up or reveal rocks. This evening, the water was on the way in and close to high which I think made the compositions simpler. Clouds cooperated in the early part of the sunset but then they cleared off.This photograph was made while the sun was still above the horizon, later the sky lost most of its complexity.

    I usually will go with a long exposure (30+ seconds) in a situation like this, but that was smearing everything together too much because of the amount of bubbles and foam in the water. Shortening the time down to about 3 seconds gave me some streaking on the water surface which I think conveys the movement of the water nicely.

    Fuji X-T1, Fuji’s Classic Chrome camera profile.


  • photo from Tumblr

    Kennedy Lake

    Was hoping for more clouds in the sky over Kennedy Lake last night and initially it looked promising. When things started to clear I decided to explore a bit and made my way over the rocky headland at the west end of “swim beach” around into a beautiful mudflat bay. Water levels are very low and this wetland would likely usually be flooded - now there’s a wide stretch of mud between the hardhack that lines the forest edge and the lake shore. That did make it challenging to find something that would work well as a foreground object. Aside from a family of spotted sandpipers and some dowitchers working the mudflats I had the place to myself. Very peaceful in the setting sun.

    Fuji X-T1, Fuji’s Classic Chrome camera profile


  • photo from Tumblr


    BCϟDC at Ukee Days on Saturday night - this ACϟDC cover band blew the doors off of Ukee, crowd just loved them. Post processed with Analog Efex Pro 2 with a grungy wet plate emulation that definitely suited the music and the performance. Awesome!

    Fuji X100S, post processed with Lightroom and Analog Efex Pro 2


Photos of the Day from Island Nature’s Flickr Group

Member of

  • Wildlife Photography Blogs


Island Nature is a member of the Canadian Amazon Associates program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to books on A small percentage of each sale helps support this web site and you pay no additional fees for the book!


Creative Commons License

Images and writing by Dave Ingram are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Canada License.

Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Island Nature copyright.