The na­ture of things

Queen and king scal­lops

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook -

SCAL­LOP shells are so deeply em­bed­ded in Western art, ar­chi­tec­ture and cul­ture that we often hardly no­tice them, al­though their sym­met­ri­cal fan pat­tern is vis­ually de­light­ful. These abun­dant ma­rine an­i­mals live nat­u­rally all around Bri­tish shores and across the north-eastern At­lantic seaboard, from Nor­way down to the Ca­nary Is­lands.

Their pres­ence is often linked, sym­bol­i­cally, with birth (most fa­mously in Bot­ti­celli’s The Birth of Venus, with the god­dess ar­riv­ing at the seashore aboard a gi­gan­tic scal­lop shell). The pop­u­lar ed­i­ble bi­valve mol­luscs are also strongly linked with the apostle St James, in leg­end said to have trav­elled to Com­postela in north­ern Spain. Thus, the scal­lop shell may ap­pear in coats of arms linked with me­dieval pil­grim­age and the pil­grims’ route to the cathe­dral of San­ti­ago (that is, St James) de Com­postela is way­marked with shell iconog­ra­phy, dis­creetly carved into the walls of houses and hostel­ries.

Queen scal­lops, Ae­quipecten op­er­cu­laris (top left, cen­tre and bot­tom left), are small­ish, at about 3in–4in across, fully grown, with a thin shell in the vari­able colours of sands and sun­sets. Both of its valves are con­vex. Slightly larger king scal­lops or co­quilles Saint-jac­ques (Pecten max­imus, top right, bot­tom right) have one flat valve and one con­vex.

Scal­lops are fil­ter feed­ers and, un­usu­ally for bi­valves, can swim—some­times a use­ful tac­tic to es­cape preda­tory starfish and crabs. KBH

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