Fish and Wildlife Research Institute scientists based in St. Petersburg and Marathon conduct research on scallops, oysters, clams, conch and other molluscan species at various locations across the state. They collect data on life history, biology, age structure, stock abundance and fishery characteristics, which are analyzed to monitor trends in mollusc populations throughout Florida. In some instances, molluscs are cultured and released to help evaluate the use of hatchery-reared animals as a management tool for rebuilding or enhancing coastal fisheries.
Bay scallops (Argopecten irradians
) live in shallow, nearshore waters along Florida’s Gulf coast, from Pensacola to the Florida Keys. These bivalves are usually found nestled in seagrass beds and are easily distinguished from other bottom-dwelling animals by their electric blue eyes. Bay scallops are capable of swimming by opening and closing their shells rapidly to generate thrust, which can make catching them more challenging.
Although closely related to bay scallops, calico scallops (Argopecten gibbus) live in deeper, offshore waters along the east and west coasts of Florida. Calico scallops are found on sandy or shelly bottoms, and their mottled pink-hued shells commonly wash ashore, providing beachgoers with colorful treasures.
Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica
) occur in coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, from Canada to Mexico. Oysters are filter-feeders and can clean large volumes of water over a relatively short period of time. Reef structures formed by oysters are complex and provide refuge for hundreds of other species, including the juvenile stages of several fishes. The bulk of eastern oyster harvesting in Florida occurs on the Gulf coast, primarily in the Panhandle and Big Bend regions.
These long-lived, dense-shelled bivalves live in sandy or muddy bottoms throughout Florida waters. Two species of hard clam are found in Florida: the northern quahog (Mercenaria mercenaria
) and the southern quahog (Mercenaria campechiensis
). Historically, clams served as a food source and currency for Native Americans.
A slow-moving, long-lived marine snail, the queen conch (Strombus gigas
) inhabits seagrass beds in Caribbean and western Atlantic Ocean waters, including those around the Florida Keys. The conch’s large, pink-lipped shell is valued among shell collectors, and its meat is a dietary staple for many Caribbean cultures. The conch has become a symbol of the relaxed pace of life in the Florida Keys, where the human natives affectionately refer to themselves as "conchs."
Learn about other molluscan species found in Florida waters, such as: coquina clams, green mussels, nudibranchs and large marine snails like horse conchs, lightning whelks and tulips.