Here’s something: Did you know that the sedentary lifestyle of your average bivalve has caused it to develop a very simple nervous system, a nervous system so simple that it does not even include a brain? As those of you with access to Wikipedia know, bivalves are aquatic mollusks with two-part symmetrical shells. Popular bivalves include our friends the scallop, clam, oyster and mussel. Although scallops can swim, most bivalves spend their lives firmly attached to flat surfaces or buried in the sand, feeding themselves by siphoning off passing particles, reproducing asexually, and getting by just fine without a functioning brain. The more I learn about bivalves, the more they remind me of my high school friend Reuben.
Did you know that oysters change sex during their lifetime, starting out as males and usually ending up as females? And did you know that scallops have a series of blue eyes that, although rather weak, are capable of detecting light and movement?
Bivalves should never be confused with arthropods, of course, as I did recently when I mentioned that I enjoyed eating clams, oysters, scallops, mussels and crabs, and was gently but firmly reminded that crabs are not bivalves like the rest of my dining wish list. Crabs are arthropods. In fact, 75 percent of all animal life on earth falls within the arthropod family, a remarkably adaptable and enduring family that includes crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, crayfish and shrimp, and also spiders, mites and insects. Did you know that aquatic arthropods are as prevalent in the world’s oceans as insects are on the earth’s surface? No wonder submarines don’t have windshields, With no underwater gas stations between here and North Korea, there’d be no way to clean the accumulated squashed aquatic arthropods from the sub’s windshield after a long cruise without sending out a sailor in a diving suit with a scraper and a squeegee.
Aquatic arthropods include their fair share of odd ducks. The barnacle, for instance, is a shrimp-like animal that spends its life in a limestone house with its head cemented to a hard surface while it uses its foot to kick food into its mouth. (Again, the resemblance to my friend Reuben is just uncanny). And how about the wacky parasitic wing of the arthropod family, an incestuous backwater swamp of a sub-phylum that includes such lovely creatures as sea lice, fish lice, whale lice and tongue worms.
I took a crash course in bivalve morphology in anticipation of attending last weekend’s Bivalve Bash up in Bow, on the tidelands of Taylor Shellfish Company near Larrabee State Park.
The bash is an annual celebration of tidelands and bivalves and associated pleasures, and features such exciting activities as oyster shuffleboard, an oyster shell sculpture contest, crab races and a Low Tide Mud Race through the knee-deep, sucking low-tide mud and muck of Samish Bay. Somewhat experienced mud runners duct tape their running shoes to their feet before the start of the Mud Race. Truly experienced mud runners stay the hell away from the race entirely. There are also educational exhibits and opportunities to handle tidal residents such as sea stars, sea urchins and a sizable geoduck clam who, judging by his rather rude and peevish behavior, did not seem to enjoy being handled at all. But what the Bivalve Bash mainly features is multiple opportunities to consume bivalves in all their many glories. The bash has booths offering fresh raw oysters on the half shell, barbecued oysters, curried mussels, steamed clams, roasted corn on the cob and fry bread. (I realize corn and fry bread are neither bivalves nor arthropods, but I had some of each anyway).
We left the bash before the festivities moved to Edison that night for the Samish Bay Invitational Professional Oyster Shucking Championship at the Long Horn Saloon, so I can’t report on who won the competition. But when you’re talking about shucking oysters in a saloon, I’d venture to say that there really are no losers. Except for the oysters, of course. But if oysters had any brains, they’d be arthropods.