Flame shell

Flame shell ©Polly Whyte/Earth in Focus

Flame shell

Scientific name: Limaria hians
It's easy to see where this stunning bivalve got its name from - the bright orange tentacles emerging from the shell really do look like flames!

Species information

Statistics

Length: Up to 4cm

Conservation status

File shell beds are Priority Habitat under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework and a priority marine feature in Scotland's seas. Nature Conservation Marine Protected Areas are designated to protect Flame shells in Scottish waters.

When to see

January to December

About

The Flame shell is also known as a Gaping file shell - it gets this name as the shell always remains slightly agape, showcasing its fringe of beautiful orange tentacles. These tentacles are thick and distinctly anemone-like, but don't be fooled - the animal inside is a mollusc. They build themselves a nest to hide in, created using sticky byssus threads and bits of gravel and shell debris. This helps hide the Flame shell from hungry predators. Over time, many nests together start to create a Flame shell bed (also known as a File shell bed) - this creates a habitat for hundreds of other species, including seaweeds and other invertebrates.

How to identify

Often called Britain's most beautiful bivalve, the Flame shell is unmistakeable. The rough shell is brownish white, but most distinctive are the bright orange tentacles that grow out of the mollusc's mantle - always visible, even when the valves are pulled together. The shell is always slightly agape.

Distribution

Along the west coast of Scotland, predominantly in Sea Lochs. Individuals are sparsely found on the west coast of Wales, off the Isle of Man and off Plymouth Sound.

Did you know?

A bed of 100 million Flame shells was found in Loch Alsh in Scotland in 2012, covering an area of 75 hectares! It is probably the largest Flame shell bed in the world and is now designated as a Marine Protected Area.

How people can help

Avoid eating seafood caught using bottom-towed gear, including Scallops and Scampi. Instead, choose diver caught Scallops and creel caught Scampi. Flame Shells are a protected feature of Nature Conservation MPAs in Scotland, for which sites are already designated. All around the UK, Wildlife Trusts are working with sea users, researchers, politicians and local people towards a vision of Living Seas where marine wildlife thrives. Do your bit for Living Seas by supporting your local Wildlife Trust or check out our Action pages.