Beach Creatures – The Oyster

Don’t count on finding a pearl…

photo of Oyster
Oyster image courtesy of Allerina & Glen MacLarty
(click on image to enlarge)

Oysters, raw or cooked, have been considered a gourmet delicacy by mankind for thousands of years, but there are two quite distinct versions, and the sort we eat are not normally the ones in which we find pearls. It does make a great April Fool’s Day joke, but those who know won’t be tricked!

The oyster is an invertebrate, capable of living as long as 20 years, and is found in shallow waters of the oceans. Two of the most common types f oysters (used for food) are the Eastern American Oyster, found in the Atlantic Ocean from Canada to Argentina, and the Pacific Oyster, found in the Pacific Ocean from Japan and over to the west coast of Washington State in the U.S.A., and then as far south as Australia. They live in colonies commonly called “beds”.

Ranging in size from 3” (8cm) to 14” (36cm), oysters have a very hard grey, oval or pear-shaped shell with a powerful mechanism (a muscle) that can close tightly when the oyster feels any form of threat. Inside the shell is a shiny white, much like the bathroom sink! The body is plump and makes most people wonder why oysters were ever considered edible; they are grey, slimy and look a bit like a wad of phlegm. Evidently, they taste good (you be the judge!).

Most animals have their “oh, wow!” elements, and so does the oyster; it changes gender once or more during its lifetime. Oh, wow! This is one of the reasons that oysters have been regarded as an aphrodisiac; we’re waiting for proof before we eat our share!

The commercial harvesting of oysters is controlled and even though some beds have diminished, they seem to maintain healthy levels of reproduction, providing they can find good water quality locations to settle in. Although some people find them delicious, raw oysters can be dangerous for human consumption because their thick flesh can harbor toxins that can be ingested by the person who eats them; there have been documented cases of sickness and death resulting from eating oysters. We think we’ll just admire them from a distance, and keep checking for pearls!

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