Courtesy L. Dougherty
Blow a kiss. Then pinch your lips into a thin line. Now alternate kiss and pinch several times a second for a pathetic, low-wattage human attempt at mimicking a disco clam.
Scuba divers call Ctenoides ales the disco or electric clam because the restless, curling lips of its mantle flash bright streaks. “It’s very vivid and very dramatic,” says Lindsey Dougherty of the University of California, Berkeley. She has made progress discovering how the poorly understood clams create a streak show. But that only deepens the puzzle of why.
Dougherty helped bust the myth that the clams bioluminesce, an idea so reasonable and persistent that she makes sure to say it’s wrong at least twice in each scientific presentation. The clams don’t make light themselves, but unfurl a supremely reflective strip along the lips of the mantle. Reflected light winks off the strip, then the lip rolls up like a window