Thorny Oyster

Temporal range: 85.0–0.0Ma
Cretaceous to Recent
A shell of Spondylus regius
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Bivalvia
Order: Ostreoida
Suborder: Pectinina
Superfamily: Pectinoidea
Family: Spondylidae
Gray, 1826
Genus: Spondylus
Linnaeus, 1758


Spondylus is a genus of bivalve molluscs, the only genus in the family Spondylidae. As well as being the systematic or scientific name, Spondylus is also the most often used common name for these animals, though they are also known as thorny oysters or spiny oysters.

The many species of Spondylus vary considerably in appearance and range. They are grouped in the same superfamily as the scallops, but like the true oysters (family Ostreidae), they cement themselves to rocks, rather than attaching themselves by a byssus. Their key characteristic is the two parts of their shells are hinged together with a ball and socket type of hinge, rather than a toothed hinge as is more common in other bivalves.

Spondylus spp. have multiple eyes around the edges of the shell, and they have relatively well-developed nervous systems. Their nervous ganglia are concentrated in the visceral region, with recognisable optic lobes connected to the eyes.

Spondylus shells are much sought after by collectors, and there is a lively commercial market in them.


The genus Spondylus originated in the Mesozoic era and can be found it fossil forms can be found in Cretaceous rocks in the Fort Worth Formation of Texas and in the Trent River Formation of Vancouver, as well as other parts of North America.[1] [2]

Archaeological evidence shows that people in Neolithic Europe were trading the shells of Spondylus gaederopus to make bangles and other ornaments as long as 5,000 years ago (Varna necropolis). The shells were harvested from the Aegean Sea, but were transported far into the centre of the continent. In the LBK and Lengyel culture, Spondylus shells from the Aegean Sea were worked into bracelets and belt buckles.

Spondylus princeps is found off the coast of Ecuador, and has been important to Andean peoples since pre-Columbian times, serving as offerings to the Pachamama, as well as some kind of currency [3]. In fact, much like in Europe, the Spondylus shells also reached far and wide, as pre-Hispanic Ecuadorian peoples traded them with peoples as far north as present-day Mexico and as far south as the central Andes.[4] The Moche people of ancient Peru worshipped animals and the sea, and often depicted Spondylus shells in their art. [5]


  • S. americanus Hermann, 1781 — Atlantic thorny oyster
  • S. anacanthus Mawe, 1823 — nude thorny oyster
  • S. barbatus Reeve, 1856
  • S. butleri Reeve, 1856
  • S. calcifer Carpenter, 1857
  • S. clarksoni Limpus, 1992
  • S. cruentus Lischke, 1868
  • S. cumingii Sowerby, 1847
  • S. dutempleanus Linnaeus, 1758
  • S. echinatus Schreibers, 1793
  • S. erectospinus Habe,1973
  • S. erinaceus Reeve, 1856
  • S. gaederopus Linnaeus, 1758 — European thorny oyster
  • S. gilvus Reeve, 1856
  • S. groschi Lamprell & Kilburn, 1995
  • S. gussoni (O. G Costa, 1829)
  • S. hawaiiensis Dall, Bartsch and Rehder, 1938
  • S. hystrix Röding, 1798
  • S. ictericus Reeve, 1856
  • S. imbutus Reeve, 1856
  • S. imperialis Chenu, 1843
  • S. japonicus Kur — Japanese spiny oyster
  • S. lamarcki Chenu, 1845
  • S. layardi Reeve, 1856
  • S. linguaefelis Sowerby, 1847
  • S. longitudinalis Lamarck, 1819
  • S. marisrubri Röding, 1798
  • S. microlepos Lamarck, 1819
  • S. multimuricatus Reeve, 1856
  • S. multisetosus Reeve, 1856
  • S. nicobaricus Schreibers, 1793
  • S. occidens Sowerby, 1903
  • S. plurispinosus Reeve, 1856
  • S. powelli Smith, 1892
  • S. pratii Parth, 1990
  • S. princeps Broderip, 1833 — Pacific thorny oyster
  • S. regius Linnaeus, 1758 — regal thorny oyster
  • S. sanguineus Dunker, 1852
  • S. senegalensis Schreibers, 1793
  • S. setiger Reeve, 1846
  • S. sinensis Schreibers, 1793
  • S. smythaea Lamprell, 1998
  • S. somalicus M. Parth & R. Philippe, 1992
  • S. squamosus Schreibers, 1793
  • S. tenellus Reeve, 1856
  • S. varius Sowerby,1829
  • S. variegatus Schreibers, 1793
  • S. versicolor Schreibers, 1793
  • S. vexillum Reeve, 1856
  • S. wrightianus Crosse, 1872 — Wright's thorny oyster
  • S. zonalis Lamarck, 1819


External links

  • Session Abstracts on Spondylus research at the 13th Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists at Zadar, Croatia, September 2007
  • from the website of the Gladys Archerd Shell Collection at Washington State University Tri-Cities Natural History Museum
  • Neolithic artifacts in Europe


A full and constantly updated bibliography on Spondylus spp. in Aegean, Balkan, European and American contexts

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