The nature of things
Queen and king scallops
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