Meet the Electric Flame Scallop, the Clam That Shoots Lightning Bolts

There’s only one sea animal you want at the disco. It’s the electric flame scallop, also known as the disco clam, and it’s more fun than any of us could ever hope to be.

For years, the creature was putting on light displays for everyone who bothered to look.

Disco Clams Light Up the Ocean Floor

Disco clams get their name from the rippling light show on their mirrored lips, visible even in the dim blue depths. UC Berkeley graduate student, Lindsey Dougherty, has been studying the clams for four years.


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And everyone believed that it was some kind of electric phenomenon that made the clam give off the shock that it did.

Disco GIF – Find & Share on GIPHY

Discover & Share this Disco GIF with everyone you know. GIPHY is how you search, share, discover, and create GIFs.

As it turned out, though, they were wrong, and it took the intense research of a graduate student to unveil the secret. The student researcher, Lindsey Dougherty, tried to show the world that it wasn’t an otherworldly bioluminescent effect that made the clam act the way it did. She first vowed to show the world what was up with the animal when she was diving with her sister in Indonesia.

Years later, and deep into her Ph.D studies, she seems to have found an answer. It’s not unusual to think the creature had an electric response to predators. Such defense has fared well for other animals.

But Dougherty was right: The electric flame scallop wasn’t emitting an electric light show. It was simply, well … light.

Electric Disco Clams Exist-Watch Them Light Up This Coral Reef | National Geographic

Ctenoides ales, also known as the “electric disco clam,” is lighting up tropical waters with its resemblance to a flashing neon light. Watch: Glowing Bug Attracts and Devours Prey ➡ Subscribe: About National Geographic: National Geographic is the world’s premium destination for science, exploration, and adventure.

The truth was, the clam’s outer shell contained a highly reflective tissue. And not only was that tissue super susceptive to ambient light; it also disappeared to the naked eye quite quickly.

Part of Dougherty’s findings included the color of the water surrounding the clam.

The blue-green waters helped its actions show up more clearly than if the nearby water had been, say, brown.

Nature Is Weird on Twitter

The electric flame scallop (Ctenoides ales) shoots lightning bolts! (Video via @allfiveoceans)

That’s what made the electric effect so persistent: the color of the surrounding water and the color of the inside lip of the clam. All those colors made the reflecting light appear as a quick flash of electricity as opposed to the more, rather boring flash of regular light that it was.

For Dougherty, it was a rare formula. The hypothesis of an experiment? Electric. The findings? Regular.



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Wednesday, 20 June 2018




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