Scallop laboring on Labor Day weekend

Posted on September 6, 2015 by

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Author: Skylar Bayer

What are you doing on Labor Day? I bet whatever you’re doing is more relaxing than what I’m going to be spending the next three days enduring. This crazy, scallop spawning life.

I know, scallops are delicious and deliciously sexy like the Boiticelli Birth of Venus painting we all know and love. However, I don’t know that many species that get up to the size of birthing a full grown lady.

In Maine scallops are often found among other fun animals like the American lobster, sculpin, rock gunnels, cunner, blue mussels, rock crabs and the green sea urchin. This is an excellent video I caught during the Invertebrate Zoology class I TAed a few years ago. Scallop vs. Urchin was in full swing in the class tank:

While the Scallop lost in the above round, it did win at least one.

The thing to note in the silly above is that you can see that scallops can aim where water comes in and out and it’s something to look for later on in the videos in this post.

Scallops are a symbol of fertility and are quite literally, very, very fertile. A single female can produce billions of eggs in a single spawn. It’s mind boggling to try to conceive just how many eggs a whole bed of scallops can produce. For context, there are about 100 billion stars in the observable universe. I wouldn’t doubt I’ve seen several 100 billion scallop eggs in all my years spawning them.

In fact, as I write this, billions and billions of eggs are settling into test tubes from this afternoon’s spawn. Here’s a picture of our spawning table with eggs settled on the bottom (they’re that bright orange “dust” that’s not on my face or shirt):

Scallop Love

When the scallops spawn at first, though, it can look like this in the spawning table:

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More often than not I come into the lab and the entire tank is orange and I have no idea who has done it and when exactly (within an hour) it happened. My face tends to look like this when that happens:

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Last summer I decided to get up close and personal with the spawning and used a GoPro to take some shots.  This video loop journeys around the spawning table when the water column is chock full of seventy micron sized orange eggs.

This summer is my fifth season stimulating scallops to spawn around their natural spawning period. In previous years I’ve tracked this through gonad indices (basically the ratio of gonad weight to the body weight that doesn’t include the shells). This year I pretty much had to wing it because our scallop raft was hit by several icebergs and washed up on shore:

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Dana Morse and I took sledgehammers and his chainsaws to it for part scavenging. All scallop souls on board were sadly lost. Both their meats and gonads were mourned.

So the Wahle lab dive team did a few dives for me and the scallops have been living in the flowing seawater lab at the Darling Marine Center since July.

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Actually one of the scallops we found had a tag on it from our experiment we conducted THREE YEARS AGO! I was pleased to see that this female not only survived, but had a nice looking gonad to boot. That individual still has not spawned today however tomorrow is another day (hint hint, scallop)

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Last year I noticed that after the water temperature reaches its peak in the summer, scallops tended to spawn. And more specifically, it appears from about six years or more of spawning attempt data we have in our specific lab environment, scallops are more likely to spawn on the last quarter of the moon (one week after full moon). At this point I still need to analyze the data to be sure, and I have no idea why, but this seems to be a pretty good predictor in the last two years.

An example of that is … this weekend! Labor Day weekend happens to coincide with the last quarter of the moon after the temperature peaked in the estuary last month.

This seems to work pretty well with the females. The males are another matter. They pretty much do as they please. I have been able to capture one on video:

It was tricky and I had to be sneaky. Usually I show up and the party is already happening in the males’ quarters:

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Alright, that’s all for tonight as I prepare to sleep under my desk, but stay tuned for more adventures in scallop spawning from the Darling Marine Center. I leave with you my favorite photo piece — eggs in test tubes.

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