Clinocardium nuttallii (Conrad, 1837)

Common name(s): Heart cockle, Nuttall's cockle, basket cockle

Synonyms: Cardium orbis
Phylum Mollusca
 Class Bivalvia
  Subclass Heterodonta
   Order Veneroida
    Family Cardiidae
Clinocardium nuttallii, 4 cm long and 4.2 cm high.
(Photo by: Dave Cowles, July 2005)
Description:  Cockles are broad, high shells with radial ribs, 2 adductor muscle scars of nearly equal size, cardinal and lateral  hinge teeth (photo). Clinocardium nuttallii has a thick shell, is just as high or slightly higher (dorsal to ventral distance) than long (anterior to posterior end), has more than 30 (often around 35) distinct radial ribs covering the entire valve.  The ridges become undulations on the ventral margins of the valves, which interlock with one another (photo).  Height up to 14 cm, but usually less than 5 cm. Shell is usually light tan, mottled with various bands or blotches of brown (photo), especially in younger individuals.  Its siphons are short (photo).  When buried in the sand, the siphon edges appear white with white hairs radiating from their tips, and with small white globules inside the rim of the incurrent siphon.  The cockle's profile from the side is heart-shaped (photo).

How to Distinguish from Similar Species: Other cockles in the area have an area in the posterior quarter that has prominent concentric ridges as well as radial ribs, or are wider than high; and do not get larger than about 4 cm.  The littleneck clam Protothaca staminea has much less prominent radial ribs and the ventral margin does not undulate.

Geographical Range: Bering Sea to San Diego, CA; Japan; very common in Rosario area.

Depth Range: Low intertidal to 200 m; mostly intertidal and shallow subtidal

Habitat: Fine sediment, especially muddy fine sand (not plain mud).  Lies barely buried in the sediment.  Often in eelgrass beds.

Biology/Natural History: Growth rings may be prominent, especially in the northern parts of its range, as this species nearly ceases feeding in winter.  Yearly growth lines are much less prominent farther south, but tidal cycle growth lines can often be seen.  Mantle margin has tiny tentacles with tiny eyes.  Pumps 2.51 liters of water per hour per gram body weight.  Predators include Pycnopodia helianthoides, Pisaster brevispinus, Cancer magister, and gulls.  The cockle has a strong escape response to Pycnopodia--rapidly extending its foot and jumping away (movie).  May be a source of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) for humans.  A simultaneous hermaphrodite (has both functional male and female gonads at the same time).  In Puget Sound they mature in their second year and spawn in July and August.  Live 15-19 years in Alaska.  May contain small pea crabs such as Pinnixa faba inside the mantle cavity.

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Dichotomous Keys:
Flora and Fairbanks, 1966 (as Cardium corbis)
Kozloff 1987, 1996
Smith and Carlton, 1975

General References:
Brusca and Brusca, 1978
Harbo, 1997
Harbo, 1999
Johnson and Snook (1955) (as Cardium corbis)
Kozloff, 1993
McConnaughey and McConnaughey, 1985
Morris, 1966
Morris et al., 1980
Niesen, 1994
Niesen, 1997
O'Clair and O'Clair, 1998
Ricketts et al., 1985
Sept, 1999

Scientific Articles:

General Notes and Observations:  Locations, abundances, unusual behaviors:

We find this species to be the most commonly found bivalve in western Padilla Bay, along the east side of March Point.

Clinocardium nuttallii shells have various brown bands and blotches on the valves.

Cockles have two adductor muscle scars of nearly equal size, and cardinal and lateral teeth.  Photo of Clinocardium nuttallii shell by Dave Cowles, July 2005

Labeled features

The same photo as above, with many of the features labeled.

The radial ribs interlock as undulations along the ventral margin, which likely strengthens the shell by making the two valves difficult to twist apart.  I am holding the two valves slightly apart here to clearly show the gap--in full closure they interlock tightly.  Photo by Dave Cowles, July 2005

A side view shows why this cockle is called the heart cockle.  Photo by Dave Cowles, July 2005

Dorsal side with hinge
This dorsal view shows the umbones and external hinge. Photo by Dave Cowles, June 2020

Clinocardium nuttallii has short siphons, mainly white.  Note that the incurrent siphon is larger than the excurrent siphon, as is common in many bivalves.
Photo by Dave Cowles, July 2007

This species jumps rapidly by extending its foot when it senses predatory seastars such as  Pycnopodia helianthoides or Pisaster ochraceus.  Click here for a movie of the jump near Pycnopodia.

Authors and Editors of Page:
Dave Cowles (2005):  Created original page