Shell equal-valved, suboval, gaping much at the small end, truncated and swollen at the other, covered with a pale greenish epidermis, which also continues over its long broad tube and mantles; valves wrinkled transversely; beaks depressed; umbones prominent, but unequal; a large spoon-shaped tooth in left valve, with a socket or hollow in the other; ligament internal.
Of the three species of Myadae which inhabit our British seas, two of them are used for food, viz. Mya truncata (the one figured) and Mya arenaria, which last is much eaten at Naples. At Belfast this shell is called "Cockle brillion,"* evidently the same name as that applied in Brittany to the winkle, viz. vrélin or brélin. They live buried in the sand or mud, in an upright position, at the mouths of rivers and estuaries near low-water mark, and at low tide their locality is known by the holes in the surface. It requires much labour and patient digging, sometimes to the depth of more than a foot, to procure a dish of these esculents, therefore they are not so common an article of food as others which are more easily gathered. In Orkney, Mya truncata is called Kunyu, and is not only eaten, but is used as bait for cod-fishing. The Zetlanders call it Smurslin, the Feroese, Smirslingur. They eat it boiled. In German it is the Klafftnuschel. On some parts of the Devonshire coast it is known as the spoon-shell, probably owing to the wide spoon-shaped tooth in the left valve. The length of a full-grown specimen is about 3 inches, by 21/2 in breadth. Mya arenaria is larger than Mya truncata, longer and more pointed at the gaping end, equally coarse and rugged in appearance, its colour varying according to the nature of the soil in which it buries itself. Montagu states that this species is eaten at Southampton, and called "old maid;"* but upon making inquiry there I cannot discover that they are now known by that name. In Chichester harbour and in Fareham Creek the poorer classes collect them for eating, and call them "pullers". At Youghal the name for them is "sugar-loons," and in Dublin "colliers," and at both places they are considered good bait, and fit to eat; but at Youghal they warn you to be careful to take off the skin which covers the outside of the shell and tube, as it is supposed to be poisonous. However, it is probably harmless, except in cases where it causes indigestion; but I believe Mya arenaria has been known really to disagree with some people, and Miss Ball mentions a friend being very uncomfortable after eating one. The Hampshire people do not seem to have noticed this peculiarity. I cannot let this opportunity pass without expressing my sincere thanks to Miss Ball for much valuable information, which she kindly sent to me from Ireland, respecting the various edible mollusks.
* 'British Conchology,' vol. iii. p. 65.
Mya truncata Gaper.
Vincent Brooks, Imp. del. _ G. B. Sowerby, lith.
Mya arenaria (Mye des sables) may occasionally be seen exposed for sale in the market at Bordeaux.
It is the Soft Clam of America, and there it is most highly esteemed as food, and also as bait. Mr. Earll (of the United States Commission) gave some interesting details at one of the Conferences held in connection with the International Fisheries Exhibition, London, 1883, respecting the extent to which Mya arenaria is used in the United States. He says, "In the State of Maine 318,000 bushels, or 1,000,000 lbs. of this mollusk were used for bait and for food. In Massachusetts an equal quantity, if not more, and in the Middle States 406,000 bushels, making in all over 1,000,000 bushels, having a value to fishermen of 458,000 dollars. He had not the statistics for Connecticut, Rhode Island, and some of the other States where these shellfish were also used in considerable quantities, but including them it might be said that over a million and a quarter bushels, valued at probably not less than 600,000 dollars, were used on the Atlantic sea-board.....Some fishermen on the coast confined themselves to the quarrying, as it was called, of these shellfish, for they had the habit of burying themselves two or three inches deep in the mud or sand of the shallow bays along the shore. This industry afforded employment to a large number of fishermen at a time when nothing else could be done. Some of the smaller vessels, not considered safe to encounter the winter gales, were taken into the shallow waters, and served as hotels and work-houses for the men engaged in quarrying the clams. These men spent two or three months in gathering a vessel-load, shelling them and salting them, to be sold in the early spring to the vessels engaged in the great ocean cod fisheries; whilst large numbers were also engaged during the entire summer gathering them to be sold in the larger markets for food, where they were prized very highly by both rich and poor".* In New York they are sold at three dollars per hundred, and, retail, thirty-five cents per dozen, and are best in cold weather.
* Forbes and Hanley, ' British Mollusca'.
Mr. R. E. C. Stearns, in the 'American Naturalist;' May, 1881, mentions the introduction (probably recently) of Mya arenaria in the Bay of San Francisco, and that it is now one of the most abundant species of shellfish to be seen in the markets.
Myadae are widely distributed, and are not only food for man, but for the walrus and other northern animals, besides birds and fishes, which relish them greatly. Captain Tuckey, in his expedition to the river Zaire, or Congo, found that a species of Mya was much sought after by the natives, and that three or four hundred canoes were met with near Draper's Islands, in which the people were busily engaged in dragging up these shellfish; having made temporary huts by bending and entwining living branches of trees, besides occupying caverns in the rocks with their families during the fishing-season. The shells were opened, and the fish having been taken out was dried in the sun. The Chinese name for Mya arenaria is "Tsé-ga," and they consider it a great delicacy, and they eat it with a seasoning, of which onion is the base.†
A Clam dredger was exhibited at the International Fisheries Exhibition in the Chinese collection. It was a rake, which is fastened round the waist of the fisherman with a rattan band. He walks backwards through the shallow water drawing the rake towards him; and when the iron comes in contact with anything hard he feels with his foot, and if it prove to be a clam, he picks it up and goes on as before.
† 'Notice sur la Malacologie du littoral de 1'Empire Chinois,' par Odon Desbeau. 'Journal de Conchyliologie,' tome xi. 1863.