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Friday, February 29, 2008

Eastern Oyster - Crassostrea virginica

The eastern oyster is a bivalve mollusk with rough shells that vary in color from grayish to white.

The right, or top, valve is flat.

The left, or bottom, valve is cupped and has a purple muscle scar on the inside.
The size and shape of the shells varies depending on the oyster's environment, but they generally grow to about 3 to 4 inches.

Where does the eastern oyster live?

Oysters can be found in subtidal areas in the Bay and its tributaries, from depths of 8 to 35 feet.

Range from brackish waters to the high-salinity lower Bay.

Concentrated in areas with shell, hard sand or firm mud bottoms. These areas are called oyster bars, beds or rocks.

Oysters attach to one another, forming dense reefs that provide habitat for many other fish and invertebrates.

What does the eastern oyster eat?

Oysters are filter feeders. They feed by opening their shells and pumping water through their gills to filter out plankton and other particles.

How does the eastern oyster reproduce?

Oysters spawn in early summer in response to rising water temperatures.

Adults release eggs and sperm into the water, where they are fertilized. Females can produce about 100 million eggs per year.

After spawning, oysters are thin and watery because they have used up their stored food reserves. They grow larger and stronger as the weather cools.

In less than 24 hours the fertilized eggs develop into larvae.

For the next two to three weeks the free-swimming larvae grow until they are ready to settle. During this time they develop a foot, which is used to crawl and “explore” a surface before settlement.

When they find a suitable surface to settle on, the larvae secrete a liquid cement-like substance, which fixes the left valve into place. Attached juvenile oysters are called spat.

Oysters are able to change gender. During their first few months they are bisexual. By their first winter, most become male; in another year, most become female.
Other facts about the eastern oyster:

Also known as the American oyster and the Virginia oyster.

In addition to its many natural predators, including crabs, worms and fish, oysters are prone to infection by the parasites that cause the aquatic diseases MSX and Dermo.

The cavity inside the oyster's shells is always filled with seawater, so an oyster can survive for a long period of time without having to open its shells to feed. During cooler months, oysters can live out of the water for extended amounts of time.

Historically, oysters were only eaten during months whose names contain an “R.” This was because oysters would spoil without refrigeration during warm-weather months. Also, oyster quality is poor during the summer because the oysters have just finished spawning.

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