Letter | Published:

The Resting Position of Oysters

Naturevolume 32page597 (1885) | Download Citation



IN books on Conchology, such as Woodward's “Manual of the Mollusca” and Jeffrey's “British Conchology,” it is stated that the oyster rests in the natural state on its left valve, which is the larger and more convex. In this respect it is pointed out the oyster differs from the animals belonging to the genera Pecten and Anomia, which rest on the right valve, the Anomias being firmly attached by muscle with the flat right valve applied closely to the surface of attachment. In his lecture on oysters at the Royal Institution, which was published in Nos. 1 and 2 of the English Illustrated Magazine, Prof. Huxley also states that oysters rest on the left or convex valve, the flat right valve acting as a kind of operculum. Examination of oysters from the Firth of Forth has convinced me that this statement is erroneous. I do not know on what evidence the current belief of conchologists is founded. The evidence which appears to me conclusive is that the right flat valve is always quite clean, while the convex valve is covered with worm tubes, Styela grossularia, and Hydroids. The latter are in this connection the most important; it would be impossible for specimens of Sertularia and Thuiaria 4 or 5 inches long to grow, as I have found them on almost every oyster, in the central part of the left valve, if that valve were the lower in position. On examining Pectens I found that they resembled the oyster in the contrast between the surfaces of the two valves, the upper convex one being covered with Balanus and other fixed animals, the lower being almost clean. It is generally stated that the Pecten lies on its right valve; if this statement rests on the evidence afforded by the condition of the surface of the valves the same criterion applied to the oyster leads to the same conclusion, that the right valve is the lower. I have never seen a young oyster in the attached condition: Huxley states that it is the left valve which is fixed; in papers on the embryology of the oyster I have not yet been able to find any definite information on the point. Whether it is the right or left valve that becomes attached when the larva assumes the sessile condition I cannot therefore say of my own knowledge, but with regard to the adult oyster it seems to me certain that the current belief is caused by the repetition of an error. My attention was first called to this point by my assistant, Mr. John Walker, who tells me that the opinion of the fishermen at Newhaven is divided on the point, some saying that the convex valve, others that the flat valve, is the lower.

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