Why the Electric Flame Scallop shoots lightning bolts

The Electric Flame Scallop (Ctenoides ales), or Disco Scallop, is a species of saltwater clam with bright red mantel and tentacles, and about 40 eyes each. Found throughout the Indo-Pacific, these filter feeders live at depths of up to 20m inside small crevices, feeding on floating micro-plankton.

electric flame scallop

They appear to generate lightning bolts across their mantel (soft tissue), which gave them their flashy name. Here’s a clip of this flashing light display, as seen in an Electric Flame Scallop at our Aquarium:

It's been a while since I upload something. The electric flame scallop!Taken from my phone – iPhone 6S!#iphonestillcantakegoodvidMore flame scallop vids coming 🙂

Posted by Boon Ping Ng on Sunday, 27 November 2016

Research by graduate student Lindsey Dougherty showed that the flashing light display is not a bioluminescence phenomenon, but due to reflection of the ambient light.

A staff member at the Lembeh Resort in Indonesia, where Dougherty was working with marine biologist Dimpy Jacobs in August 2013, wrote,

The clams have a highly reflective tissue on the very outer edge of their mantle that is exposed and then hidden very quickly, so the change back and forth from the white reflective tissue to the red tissue creates the appearance of flashing.


Dougherty went on to discover that the brightly reflective edge of the mantle of these clams contains nano-spheres made of silica, which are very reflective.

But why do these clams flash at all?

According to an article in the New York Times, Dougherty conducted an experiment in the laboratory where she presented the clams with artificial predators and saw an increase to four flashes per second.

“They may be using their flashes to attract prey, scare away predators or even attracting each other to settle nearby,” said Dougherty.

Here’s another video of our Electric Flame Scallops:

As promised. Here's another short clip of the electric flame scallop or disco scallop.#SonyA7 #SonyRX100MK4 #iPhone6S

Posted by Boon Ping Ng on Friday, 2 December 2016

Electric Flame Scallops can grow up to 3 inches long. And like almost all bivalves, they use their gills for both respiration and filtration. When threatened, they escape by clapping their valves together to propel them through the water, with assistance from their tentacles.

Check out these amazing Electric Flame Scallops at our Focus Globe Habitat, opposite the Mangrove Habitat.

All images and footages by Boon Ping, aquarist at S.E.A. Aquarium.

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