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Filtration Cleaner Clams

Discussion in 'General Aquarium Discussion' started by Turbo, Jul 16, 2013.

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  1. Turbo

    Turbo Does not really look like Johnny Carson Staff Member Site Owner Multiple Units! Customer

    As many are aware, clams are filter feeders. When speaking of clams in this hobby, most think of Giant Clams - Derasa, Maxima, etc. Giant clams are also photosynthetic, and purportedly do an excellent job of reducing phosphates, though that is just "what I've heard".

    But that's not the kind of clam I'm talking about here. These clams can literally be purchased -live- at the fish market or grocery store for less than $1 a piece. You can also buy them online at places like SaltWaterFish.com http://www.saltwaterfish.com/Cleaner-Clam--Group-of-5_p_5420.html.

    I am always in search of natural forms of filtration. When I heard about this one, my first reaction was to scratch my head and wonder why I hadn't heard of this before. But then I remembered how I had not heard of an Algae Scrubber until 2010, and that ha dbeen around for decades.

    So here is a quick back-story. I know someone who runs a fish breeding system as well as some frag systems. The frag systems had issues with algae and nitrates (25+). These systems also had RBTAs that were doing well. He told me that Steve Tyree had used clams as filtration for coral growing systems before skimmers were really popular (possibly before they were even around), not sure how accurate that is, but anyways...he decided to give it a shot.

    All he did was purchase a dozen of these at the local grocery store for less than $10 and put them in a plastic trough along with some small piece of rubble rock. Not in a sand bed or anything, just plunked them in. Before too long, his RBTAs were wasting away. He tested and N and P were rock bottom, zero. No matter how much he fed, they would not come up. Then his zoas stopped growing. To me, those were obvious signs of a ULN system. His frag plugs stopped growing algae.

    He took most of the clams out of the frag system (because no matter how much he fed, he could not get readable N or P) and put them in his fish breeding system, and has started to see a steady decline in nitrates in that system (fish only but nitrates still get very high before PWC time).

    I listened to all this and was really in a state of astonishment. This was quickly followed by skepticism - the "too good to be true" thing, which was then followed by vast amounts of interweb search time.

    Here is a portion of a conversation I had with a SWF staffer:

    They responded

    ...not sure if I agree that they are sand sifters, I thought they were filter feeders, and AFAIK they don't remove N and P directly, but then again, that's just what I read online...

    Here is where they get them from:

    So, all that being said, I have compiled what I consider to be a general breakdown of the many aspects of the use of these clams.

    So the information and conclusion/recommendations/suggestions I make on this topic are:

    • wholly based on my interpretation of the experiences of others who have bothered to post such experiences online (and a few locally)
    • my assessment of various opinions
    • what seems logical
    • subject to change as things are learned and experienced

    At least as of right now:

    • I have only done a few hours worth of internet searching (you can gather a TON of information in just a few hours though)
    • Experience and results are quite varied. Many factors may contribute.
    • Most information I have found is over 2 years old - not many current threads.
    • No particular thread or website seems to summarize things well (this can lead to propagation of misinformation or misinterpretation)
    • When reading a thread, there is sometimes confusion between CCs and Giant Clams. Most people haven't even considered CCs, at all

    Here is what I can summarize after all I have read about Cleaner Clams hereinafter referred to as "CCs" (current as of 2013/07/16):

    • Do not directly remove/consume (inorganic) N and P. Giant Clams do this via photosynthesis at the mantle, CCs do not.
    • Remove phytoplankton and suspended food particles, sort of like a skimmer does, the result being that such particles won't break down but the difference is they are incorporate into tissues
    • Are a living organism, so they must feed and likely do product waste, but unclear on the net effect
    • Do not need to be rolled/rotated and "burped" (air expelled) like a giant clam (no air embolism problems)
    • Need to be acclimated, and will "spit" when they first open up
    • Will burrow in the sand bed (presumably to hide from predators), and stick their prosthesis out (this is expelling filtered water).
    • Do not require the presence of a sand bed (unknown if the absence would cause any stress)
    • Live in varied water temperatures - if you buy at grocery store, who knows their origin. (SWF's come from a SW lagoon in Florida. This lagoon is also the source for many you buy at the grocery store.)
    • Water temperatures they supposedly can live in are from 50-90 Fahrenheit
    • Higher temps would likely result in higher metabolic rates (and higher filtration rates) but could affect longevity cause starvation
    • May live in salinity that appears to be less than what we keep our tanks at (18-26 ppt?)
    • When they are alive, they react as you would expect a clam to when poked/prodded (close up fast)
    • When they die, they open up and generally come to the surface and become food (unless in a sump/filter box)
    • Larger clams will generally filter up to 1 gallon per hour
    • I've seen "parasite" mentioned, as in they might have them, but I haven't seen anyone directly attest to experiencing this
    • Some have them only last months, other close to a decade
    • Some claim they literally solved their nutrient problems, others say they did nothing for them
    • The only "sizing" figure I have seen is one clam per 5 gallons of system water
    • Probably would prefer placement with gentle water flow vs rapid flow

    To me, this seems like a whole lot of people squawking about a subject they are either only mildly familiar with, a lot of "parroting" of information that they heard from someone else, or just plain pulling s--- out of their a--, mixed in with a few "yeah, those are yummy" comments from the peanut gallery.

    One of the main factors to me is the 'sizing' issue. Seems subjective to be based on tank size, since CCs must need a certain amount of food per unit of time, not water volume. Perhaps a concentration factor (food units per water volume) would be more accurate.

    So, now it's time to actually try to apply some of this in the real world, for myself. I just ordered 10 of these from SWF and I'm going to see what happens. I have a few tanks to put them in. Time for some fun!

    If (and that is a big IF at this point) it turns out that there is a way to keep these guy consistently happy and alive, it would prove to be a very natural alternative to many currently expensive or laborious systems like skimmers, filter socks, reactors, etc. The combination of an algae scrubber and a clam bed filter could have great potential. There could be a symbiotic relationship here: clams feed off of the algae scrubber effluent/by products, and the algae scrubber would be able to absorb the waste resultant from the death of a clam...


    For anyone too lazy to Google, here are many threads I found useful and a few excerpts. Feel free to add to this list. I'm all about learning the truth by means of science and experimentation.


    Here are some threads I have scanned through (you can Google "cleaner clam" and find these also)



    Good points in this thread:

    • They are a great way to control nitrates BUT they do Not consume nitrates directly.
    • they prefer salinity of 18 to 26 parts per thousand (PPT) where our reef tanks generally run about 35-36 PPT
    • they do well in warmer waters as opposed to cold.
    • this bivalve is a filter feeder and will not live with out particulate food, they DO NOT directly absorb nitrogen products like a photosynthetic clam can. they only consume the little organic particles that can lead to nitrates. They do so by sucking water in and passing it over their gills then expelling the filtered water, a large clam can filter about one gallon an hour.
    • while they can be an excellent thing to help keep nitrates low they are best used in aquariums that are being feed lots of particulate foods such as used on SPS and other filter feeder based tanks. the chances of long term survival in tanks that do not contain or are not being fed particulate foods are pretty slim for the long term. their mainstay in the wild is plankton, if you tank does not have or get dosed with this an alternative route to controlling nitrates should be sought.
    • I never added mine until my reef was very mature. (about 8 months ago)
    • they will resurface and open up all the way....or enough that you know they are dead........if you see your cuc eating it....its dead
    • when you buy the clam from the grocery store, it's basically frozen.... placing him in room temp saltwater will thaw him. he will "burp" by himself. he sticks his tube out and releases whatever sand and water he had inside and now its ready for the tank. If it doesn't burp, it's probably dead (this is not the same as releasing the air from a giant clam to avoid air embolism)



    Very long and good thread on SWF


    Good short discussion and links to not disturbing the sand bad


    Some bad experiences (small tank, too many clams)



















    Good comments on bristleworms showing up to eat the dead ones, not being the killers


    So after reading through all of this,
  2. Turbo

    Turbo Does not really look like Johnny Carson Staff Member Site Owner Multiple Units! Customer

    Ok, quick background:

    2 tanks

    Tank #1, 40 breeder, minimal stock, UAS only filtration, fed 1/4 cube every other day. I put 9 clams in this tank on 7/16 and tested P=0.81 and N=~40. I harvested the algae from the scrubber. The test on 7/2 was P=.88 and N=40+, so the 2 week period w/o clams was not much change.

    Tested today and P was 0.65 and N was more like 20, that's in 9 days. I plan on testing again before harvesting the scrubber (prob next Tues/Wed) and then I will harvest the scrubber, remove the clams, and put them in the 120.

    Tank #2, 120, 2 large tangs, 4 chromis, 2 clowns, lots of coral, L2 scrubber (same size except waterfall), fed 2+ cubes every other day, roughly. Tank has consistently tested P=0.09-0.16 for a few months, and N usually around 20-30. This tank spike way up to P=0.9 and N>80 when I put the UAS on the 40B and started a brand new scrubber a few months ago, so it is in a lot better condition than it was. Tank parameters have not changed much since 7/16, P was 0.16 and now is 0.15 (that's skewed because I fed before I tested, oops) and N was ~40 and now is more like 20-30 (there was also a mini-spike between 7/2 and 7/16 because I was messing with the algae scrubber photoperiod and it did not work well, and my algae screen partially died, so at 7/2 for a week the filtration was sub-par, but it has recovered quickly). Anyways, 1 clam I don't think made any difference.

    So at the end of this month I will put all the clams in the 120 and see what happens to both tanks.
  3. How large are those clams? Also, did they burrow under the sand/gravel?
    I was thinking to add one or two to my 28 gal JBJ AIO; that is full of algae. It's strange that these are from Florida, I live in central Florida and have never seen them at any of the LFSs...
  4. Turbo

    Turbo Does not really look like Johnny Carson Staff Member Site Owner Multiple Units! Customer

    They are about 1-1/2" to 2" across, roughly. In my 120g, I don't have more than 1cm of sand anywhere, so he jut sits there. In the 40B I have at least 2" of sand, and all but 2 of the 9 disappeared within 2 days (4 of them in a matter of hours).

    I think the reason you don't see them in the store is that if you don't use them right and watch them, they can backfire. Some have had bad experiences, others good, again - just like any other filtration system.

    The difference I saw here is that the algae scrubber is a very excellent buffer against something akin to a large snail dying, trapped dead fish, overfeeding incident, bacterial colony mini-crash, etc. So in the past, people have had a clam die and it wreaks havoc on their tank. Most "clam death tank crash" stories are usually Giant Clams, and those usually die because of something else being wrong with the tank, meaning the tank was crashing and THEN the clam died, not the other way around. But not all of them, which is where I saw the opportunity for a "marriage" of sorts - 2 very natural forms of filtration.

    We'll see how it goes. I got mine as part of a local group buy, I think we ordered upwards of $200 worth of them (about 75 clams all together). One guy put 35 of them in his sump for his 1000 gallon plus multi-tank system. He is the one I'm wanting to follow, because he has a phosphate problem he's been battling, even with a liter-meter AWC system and a 3' tall Volcano skimmer and biopellets (and soon, an algae scrubber)
  5. Ace25

    Ace25 Member Trusted Member

    Good luck, never had any success with them. Always die in a month or 2 and end up fouling the water worse than without them in the first place because it is hard to tell when they actually die. I have always been told they normally live in similar places as mangroves, estuaries, so they are more of a brackish species than a full saltwater. Last thing I have been told by many places, even reefs2go when they sell them, is they are normally cold water species that are offered in the trade. While I am sure there are many variations around the world and some may work fine in warm water/full salt, trying to find that one species is difficult to impossible. Think of them as a cousin to flame/electric scallops, and then think of how many people have any long term success with them, none that I have ever met or read about.
  6. So I was reading this thread this morning and thought it was very interesting. Anyway, what was the final outcome? Did the clams survive? If so, how long? Did they make any discernable difference? Did the scrubber absorb the byproduct of the dying clams?

    Bottom line, would you do it again and was it worth it?
  7. Turbo

    Turbo Does not really look like Johnny Carson Staff Member Site Owner Multiple Units! Customer

    Can't say that I could tell, I don't think it was really a valid test. I think about 1/2 of the clams have died in the 40b, and the one in the 12 died a while back. If I were to do it again, i would make a "bank" of clams in a sump section so they would not be able to bury in the sand. Kind of like putting clams in a hog pen I suppose so I don't know if that qualifies for cruel and unusual punishment. PETA might come after me
  8. Every time I hear PETA I remember a bumper sticker I seen that said:
    "PETA - People eating tasty animals - Lifetime fork carrying member"
    Anyway, keep us updated if you do the clam pen idea. I really like the natural filtering idea using clams I thought it was very intriguing.
    Thanks for the write up,

    I put clean socks on for this?
  9. Kerry

    Kerry Member Trusted Member Customer

    I have had a clam thats attached to a piece of rock that was never in the light due to I thought it was dead when I bought the rock. I moved the rock about a year ago and the clam had when form about 1/2" to 1.25". I guess its the type that does not need light due to its being in almost complete darkness for 2 years. It has been attached to the same spot since I got it. I wondered if it was some kind of CC clam.
  10. IAmNotGr33n

    IAmNotGr33n Member Customer

    Forget calms, take a look at these
    Dxmarinefish, tedlietz and Turbo like this.
  11. Turbo

    Turbo Does not really look like Johnny Carson Staff Member Site Owner Multiple Units! Customer

    Dang that's awesome!!!
  12. Joel

    Joel Member Customer

    I dont know much about estuary clams, but I do know a little about estuary oysters, especially Crassostrea virginica, which is the common oyster found all up and down the Atlantic coast of the US.

    Like most filter feeders it loves estuaries because fresh water runoff means detritus and nutrients. Because estuaries swing so wildly sessile inverts in estuaries need to be able to survive a WIDE spread of salt and temp conditions.

    A few years ago we had a bad drought here in Galveston Texas, no fresh water input and shallow systems with almost no water movement meant areas like shallow oyster reefs got up over 80PPT salinity. A year or so before that I got to go out sampling with Louisiana fisheries department around the Mississippi river mouth and was sampling live oysters of the same exact species in 2-4PPT salinity, when I expressed amazement that oysters were living in what was almost fresh water, the fisheries team I was with stated it wasnt uncommon to collect living Oysters in salinity down to 1PPT.

    Apparently they grow slowly (lack of calcium and low PH I would assume) but they can make it by just fine in the 1-5PPT salinity range, and their growth is actually fastest in the wild around 10PPT. Oddly enough they do best in labs at a much higher salinity, and prefer around 35PPT.

    The discrepency is actually due to their common parasites: Oyster drills. Turns out oyster drills, like lots of small inverts, CANT handle salinity swings, so oysters are PLAGUED by these little critters at anything around 35PPT salinity, to the point they will kill off whole reefs if they are kept at a stable open ocean salinity long enough. However down around 10PPT the oyster drills basically stop being a problem.

    Anyway, I realize that was a really long response to get through to see the point, but I wonder if the "cleaner" clams are not suffering from the salinity itself.

    I wonder what would happen if you got them, brought them home and put them in brackish water, the lowered it down to say 5PPT or so for maybe a week or 2, in order to kill off any parasites they might have, then brought it back up to reef salinity and put them in your tank then....
  13. Joel

    Joel Member Customer

    As an interesting side point, they actually grow some odd marine species in very hard freshwater. There is a mariculture facility in some landlocked area (Arizona if I remember right) where they grow a pacific white shrimp hybrid in 100% fresh water with calcium in the 300-400PPM range.

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