Bivalvia, in previous centuries referred to as the Lamellibranchiata and Pelecypoda, is a class of marine and freshwater molluscs that have laterally compressed bodies enclosed by a shell consisting of two hinged parts. Bivalves as a group have no head and they lack some usual molluscan organs like the radula and the odontophore. They include the clams, oysters, cockles, mussels, scallops, and numerous other families that live in saltwater, as well as a number of families that live in freshwater. The majority are filter feeders. The gills have evolved into ctenidia, specialised organs for feeding and breathing. Most bivalves bury themselves in sediment where they are relatively safe from predation. Others lie on the sea floor or attach themselves to rocks or other hard surfaces. Some bivalves, such as the scallops and file shells, can swim. The shipworms bore into wood, clay, or stone and live inside these substances.
The shell of a bivalve is composed of calcium carbonate, and consists of two, usually similar, parts called valves. These are joined together along one edge (the hinge line) by a flexible ligament that, usually in conjunction with interlocking "teeth" on each of the valves, forms the hinge. This arrangement allows the shell to be opened and closed without the two halves detaching. The shell is typically bilaterally symmetrical, with the hinge lying in the sagittal plane. Adult shell sizes of bivalves vary from fractions of a millimetre to over a metre in length, but the majority of species do not exceed 10 cm (4 in).
Bivalves have long been a part of the diet of coastal and riparian human populations. Oysters were cultured in ponds by the Romans, and mariculture has more recently become an important source of bivalves for food. Modern knowledge of molluscan reproductive cycles has led to the development of hatcheries and new culture techniques. A better understanding of the potential hazards of eating raw or undercooked shellfish has led to improved storage and processing. Pearl oysters (the common name of two very different families in salt water and fresh water) are the most common source of natural pearls. The shells of bivalves are used in craftwork, and the manufacture of jewellery and buttons. Bivalves have also been used in the biocontrol of pollution.
Bivalves appear in the fossil record first in the early Cambrian more than 500 million years ago. The total number of known living species is about 9,200. These species are placed within 1,260 genera and 106 families. Marine bivalves (including brackish water and estuarine species) represent about 8,000 species, combined in four subclasses and 99 families with 1,100 genera. The largest recent marine families are the Veneridae, with more than 680 species and the Tellinidae and Lucinidae, each with over 500 species. The freshwater bivalves include seven families, the largest of which are the Unionidae, with about 700 species.
The bivalves are a highly successful class of invertebrates found in aquatic habitats throughout the world. Most are infaunal and live buried in sediment on the seabed, or in the sediment in freshwater habitats. A large number of bivalve species are found in the intertidal and sublittoral zones of the oceans. A sandy sea beach may superficially appear to be devoid of life, but often a very large number of bivalves and other invertebrates are living beneath the surface of the sand. On a large beach in South Wales, careful sampling produced an estimate of 1.44 million cockles (Cerastoderma edule) per acre of beach.
Bivalves inhabit the tropics, as well as temperate and boreal waters. A number of species can survive and even flourish in extreme conditions. They are abundant in the Arctic, about 140 species being known from that zone. The Antarctic scallop, Adamussium colbecki, lives under the sea ice at the other end of the globe, where the subzero temperatures mean that growth rates are very slow. The giant mussel, Bathymodiolus thermophilus, and the giant white clam, Calyptogena magnifica, both live clustered around hydrothermal vents at abyssal depths in the Pacific Ocean. They have chemosymbiotic bacteria in their gills that oxidise hydrogen sulphide, and the molluscs absorb nutrients synthesized by these bacteria. The saddle oyster, Enigmonia aenigmatica, is a marine species that could be considered amphibious. It lives above the high tide mark in the tropical Indo-Pacific on the underside of mangrove leaves, on mangrove branches, and on sea walls in the splash zone.
Some freshwater bivalves have very restricted ranges. For example, the Ouachita creekshell mussel, Villosa arkansasensis, is known only from the streams of the Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and like several other freshwater mussel species from the southeastern US, it is in danger of extinction. In contrast, a few species of freshwater bivalves, including the golden mussel (Limnoperna fortunei), are dramatically increasing their ranges. The golden mussel has spread from Southeast Asia to Argentina, where it has become an invasive species. Another well-travelled freshwater bivalve, the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) originated in southeastern Russia, and has been accidentally introduced to inland waterways in North America and Europe, where the species damages water installations and disrupts local ecosystems.