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Hard Clam

Common Name(s): Hard clam, Quahog, Northern clam. The terms: Littleneck, Cherrystone, Topnecks and Chowder are the names given to a hard clam to classify its size by weight.
Scientific Name: Mercenaria mercenaria

inside of hard clam with purple stain

Fun Facts

  • Hard clams, also commonly called Quahog, were of great cultural significance to the Native Americans of Southern New England. Native Americans cut beads from the inside of their shells for use in their art work. The beads were also used as currency, called "wampum". Beads made from the purple interior of the shell were worth almost double of what beads from the white part of the shell were worth.
  • Hard clams typically grow to about 4 inches in size and have a life span of 4-8 years. However, hard clams as old as 40 years of age have been found.

Where Are They Found?

Hard clams are found on the east coast of the United States, ranging from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico. They are found in sand or muddy sand along beaches and in bays.

A hard clam, notice its pale brown shell

What Do They Look Like?

These clams have a hard, thick shell that is typically pale brown in color and the shells interior has a distinctive purple stain.

What Do They Eat?

Hard clams are filter feeders; they filter plankton (microscopic plants and animals) out of the water column through their siphon (a straw-like organ they use to draw water into their body). They use their gills to filter food particles from the water.

Harvesting Hard Clams

The hard clam is a commercially important species that is harvested both by commercial fishermen (baymen) or by the recreational clammer. Hard clams are classified by size for the food market. The smallest size is the littleneck clam, followed by topnecks, cherrystones and chowders.

Littleneck clams are often served raw, on the half shell. Cherrystone and chowder clams are served as baked clams and used in dishes such as clam chowder and linguine with clam sauce

Catch Limits and Seasons: Get information on seasons and catch limits for both recreational and commercial shellfish harvesting. Commercial shellfish harvesters must have a shellfish diggers permit and have harvesting tags. A harvest area map is available online for commercial shellfish harvesters to record on harvest tags.
Questions and information on shellfish harvesting can be sent to the Bureau of Marine Resources by e-mail or by calling (631) 444-0475.

Shellfish Closures: Shellfish like clams, oysters, mussels and scallops may only be taken from areas that are designated as certified by DEC. Here are several items you can check before going out in the field:

  • Descriptions of all uncertified harvest areas.
  • Emergency closures due to temporary water quality conditions that may render shellfish unsafe for human consumption. The Emergency Closure Hotline: (631) 444-0480 is also available to find out if an area near you is temporarily closed to shellfishing.

If you have questions or would like more information on shellfish harvesting, please contact the Division of Marine Resources by e-mail or by calling (631) 444-0475.

~Photos courtesy of Theresa Hattenrath.

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