What Eats Clams?

What Eats Clams? What Do Clams Eat?

Clams are a type of mollusk that live in saltwater environments. They have two shell halves that protect their soft bodies. Clams burrow into the sand or mud and filter feed by sucking in seawater. There are many species of clams around the world that occupy different habitats. 

Clams are an important food source for many marine animals and provide essential nutrients and calories. Understanding what eats clams and the clam’s role in the food chain gives us insight into the interconnectedness of ocean ecosystems

In this article, we will explore the various predators that consume clams as food and how clams have adapted defenses to avoid getting eaten.

What Eats Clams
What Eats Clams


Many species of shorebirds and seabirds eat clams as part of their diet. Birds that crack open clam shells using their beaks are specialized molluscivores. Oystercatchers, gulls, ducks, and willets are some examples of common clam-eating birds.

They use their powerful beaks to pry open clam shells and access the soft body inside. Oystercatchers inhabit coastal areas worldwide and prey on mussels, oysters, scallops, and clams. 

They use their chisel-like beaks to cut the adductor muscle that keeps the two shells together. Gulls like herring gulls and great black-backed gulls feed on shellfish including clams in intertidal zones. 

They use their sturdy beaks to break through clam shells or drop them from heights to crack them open. Ducks such as harlequin ducks routinely swallow smaller clams whole and pry open bigger ones to extract the meat. 

Willets probe the sand with their long beaks to find buried clams to pry apart and eat. Clams provide protein and carbohydrates to supplement the diets of these birds.


In addition to birds, some marine and terrestrial mammals prey on clams. Sea otters, raccoons, and grizzly bears are known to feed on clams. They use their jaws, teeth, and front paws to crush clam shells and devour the meat. 

Sea otters crack open clams by banging them with rocks, then float on their backs and use their stomachs as tables to eat their prey. Raccoons use their nimble paws to dexterously pry open clam shells when foraging in intertidal zones. 

Grizzly bears that dig up clams in tidelands easily crush the shells with their powerful jaws. Clams are an important high-fat food source for bears to build up reserves for hibernation. The ability of sea otters to access buried clams helps regulate clam populations.


Many fish species prey on clams as part of their diverse diets. Atlantic cod, rays, wolfish, and crabs all consume clams in various ways. Fish like Atlantic cod produce low-frequency sounds to startle clams, causing them to open their shells slightly and reveal their location. 

The fish then suck in the exposed clam and use their strong jaws lined with molar-like teeth to crush the shell and consume the soft body inside before ejecting the shell fragments. 

Bottom-dwelling rays such as cow nose rays trap clams under their bodies and use their muscular jaws to bite down and crack open the shells before sucking out the meat.

Clams Clams

Wolfish that live on rocky sea floors use their vice-like teeth to crush clam shells, giving them access to the flesh inside. Clams are part of the generalist diet of wolfish. 

Crabs also employ their heavy claws and pinching legs to dismantle clams piecemeal. Clams make up part of the varied diet of many bottom-dwelling fish.


Crabs are adept predators of clams, using their pincers and legs to pry open their shells. Smaller clams get crushed whole, while bigger ones are dismantled piecemeal by crabs. They often drag clams back to their sandy lair to safely eat them away from their own enemies. 

Crabs like blue crabs and rock crabs consume clams by securing them in a claw, and then using their other claw to crack and chip away at the shell. Once the shell is breached, they extract the soft clam body and eat the nutritious flesh. 

Clams that are too big to dismantle are buried and left to decompose before being eaten. Hermit crabs sometimes take up residence in empty clam shells for protection. The rich flesh of clams provides nourishing food for crabs across many species.

Defenses – Shell Strength

Clams have defenses to avoid getting eaten by predators. The calcium carbonate composition and shape of their shells make them hard to crack open or crush. Clams with rounded, thick shells reinforced with extra layers are especially difficult for predators to grip and pry open.

 Having heavy shell valves that require substantial force to separate makes it energetically costly and difficult for predators to access the clam inside. The strength of their shells provides effective defense against crabs, lobsters, gulls, and other predators trying to break through. 

Strong shells force predators to spend extra time and energy attempting to get to the soft clam body, making clams a less worthwhile prey item.

Defenses – Burrowing

Another defensive tactic clams use is burrowing deeper into the sediment to escape predators. Using their muscular foot, clams can rapidly dig further down an inch or more into the sandy or muddy substrate. 

This takes them safely beyond the reach of predators like rays, crabs, and whelks that try to pin them down and pry open their shells. Burrowing deeper allows clams to avoid these surface threats while still extending their siphons up to filter feed on plankton from the water column.

 Remaining partially buried with just the siphons protruding reduces exposure and visibility to potential predators. The ability to quickly bury themselves provides clams an important means of evading predators.

Defenses – Shell Closure

Clams can quickly snap their shells completely shut by contracting their adductor muscle. This helps protect their vulnerable body parts from predators trying to get inside the shell. 

A clam’s soft body is attached to only one small area of the interior shell, so it can rapidly pull the shells together. Clams may remain tightly closed for extended periods of days or weeks when sensing nearby dangers like chemical cues from predators. 

Keeping their shells sealed helps prevent entry even if predators succeed at cracking the outer shell. 

A closed shell forces a predator to spend more time and effort attempting to get inside while also risking damage to their jaws or claws. The ability to strongly clamp the two valves shut is an important mechanical defense.

Defenses – Chemical Deterrents

Sea shells In The Sea
Sea shells In The Sea

When attacked, clams release noxious chemicals that deter predators and make the clams taste unpleasant. They eject substances including sulfuric acid, sulfur, and quinine to repel potential predators. 

This defense likely evolved to discourage predators from feeding on clams by conditioning them to avoid the foul, bitter taste. 

Fish like green crabs and dog whelks exhibit avoidance behaviors and movements like head shaking when encountering the unpalatable secretions of disturbed clams. 

Releasing predator-deterring chemicals provides clams with additional protection on top of their shell defenses. The chemicals also attract the attention of other nearby predators who may scare off the initial predator.


Clams play an integral role as prey in coastal and marine food chains. Their nutrient-rich bodies provide essential energy for sustaining many species of birds, mammals, and fish. Predators have evolved specialized adaptations for accessing protected clam meat. 

In turn, clams have developed morphological and behavioral defenses that improve survival chances against predation pressure. The perpetual evolutionary arms race between clams and their enemies promotes diversity in ocean ecosystems. 

Understanding these dynamics sheds light on the interconnected nature of life along the shore. Appreciating the connections between clams and their predators provides insight into the balance of ocean life. 

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