Scallop is a common name that is primarily applied to any one of numerous species of saltwater clams or marine bivalve mollusks in the taxonomic family Pectinidae, the scallops. However, the common name “scallop” is also sometimes applied to species in other closely related families within the superfamily Pectinoidea, which also includes the thorny oysters.
Scallops are a cosmopolitan family of bivalves which are found in all of the world’s oceans, although never in fresh water. They are one of very few groups of bivalves to be primarily “free-living”, with many species capable of rapidly swimming short distances and even of migrating some distance across the ocean floor. A small minority of scallop species live cemented to rocky substrates as adults, while others attach themselves to stationary or rooted objects such as sea grass at some point in their lives by means of a filament they secrete called a byssal thread. The majority of species, however, live recumbent on sandy substrates, and when they sense the presence of a predator such as a starfish, they may attempt to escape by swimming swiftly but erratically through the water using jet propulsion created by repeatedly clapping their shells together. Scallops have a well-developed nervous system, and unlike most other bivalves all scallops have a ring of numerous simple eyes situated around the edge of their mantles.
Many species of scallops are highly prized as a food source, and some are farmed as aquaculture. The word “scallop” is also applied to the meat of these bivalves, the adductor muscle, that is sold as seafood. The brightly coloured, symmetric, fan-shaped shells of scallops with their radiating and often fluted ornamentation are valued by shell collectors, and have been used since ancient times as motifs in art, architecture, and design.
Owing to their widespread distribution, scallop shells are a common sight on beaches and are often brightly coloured, making them a popular object to collect among beachcombers and vacationers. The shells also have a significant place in popular culture, including symbolism.
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