Pinna nobilis

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Pinna nobilis
Pinnidae - Pinna nobilis.jpg
Live specimen of Pinna nobilis, in Levanto, Liguria (Italy)
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Mollusca
Class: Bivalvia
Order: Pteriida
Family: Pinnidae
Genus: Pinna
P. nobilis
Binomial name
Pinna nobilis

Pinna gigas Chemnitz

Pinna nobilis, common name the noble pen shell or fan mussel, is a large species of Mediterranean clam, a marine bivalve mollusc in the family Pinnidae, the pen shells. It reaches up to 120 cm (4 ft) of shell length.[1]


Live specimen of Pinna nobilis, in Levanto, Liguria

The bivalve shell is usually 30–50 cm (1.0–1.6 ft) long,[2] but can reach 120 cm (4 ft).[1] Its shape differs depending on the region it inhabits. Like all pen shells, it is relatively fragile to pollution and shell damage. It attaches itself to rocks using a strong byssus composed of many silk-like threads which used to be made into cloth. The animal secretes these fibres from its byssus gland; they consist of keratin and other proteins and may be as long as 6 cm (2.4 in). The inside of the shell is lined with brilliant mother-of-pearl.[3]

As with other members of its genus, Pinna nobilis hosts symbiotic shrimp which live inside its shell.[4] It is believed that when it sees a threat, the shrimp warns the host, perhaps by retracting its claws or even by pinching. The clam then closes shut. It has been demonstrated that the shrimp has a similar filter-feeding diet to its host and the relationship is likely mutualistic.[5]


This species is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, where it lives offshore at depths ranging between 0.5 and 60 m (1.6 and 196.9 ft).[6] It could be found buried beneath soft-sediment areas (fine sand, mud, often anoxic).[7]

Human relevance[edit]

This species is the origin of sea silk, which was made from the byssus of the animal.[8]

In recent years, Pinna nobilis has become threatened with extinction, due in part to fishing, incidental killing by trawling and anchoring, and the decline in seagrass fields; pollution kills eggs, larvae, and adult mussels.[8] The noble pen shell has been listed as an endangered species in the Mediterranean Sea. The European Council Habitats Directive 92/43/EEC, on conservation of natural habitats and the wild fauna and flora, proclaims that P. nobilis is strictly protected (by the Annex IV of EEC, 1992) – all forms of deliberate capture or killing of fan mussel specimens are prohibited by law.[7]

As part of the Costa Concordia disaster recovery effort in Italy in 2012, a group of about 200 Pinna nobilis was relocated to a nearby area due to the threat posed by subsequent engineering work.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Zavodnik, D., Hrs-Brenko, M., & Legac, M. (1991). Synopsis of the fan shell P. nobilis L. in the eastern Adriatic sea. In the C. F. Boudouresque, M. Avon, & V. Gravez (Eds.), Les Especes Marines a Proteger en Mediterranee (pp. 169–178). Marseille, France: GIS Posidonie publ.
  2. ^ Acquario di Genova (2006). Pinna nobilis. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  3. ^ Tyndale (1849): The Island of Sardinia, including Pictures of the Manners and Customs of the Sardinians, . . . Three Volumes. John Warre Tyndale. London: Richard Bentley. pp. 77–79.
  4. ^ Rabaoui, Lofti; Zouari, Sabiha; Ben Hassine, Oum (2008). "Two species of Crustacea (Decapoda) associated with the fan mussel, pinna nobilis Linnaeus, 1758 (Mollusca, Bivalvia)". Crustaceana. 81 (4): 433–446. doi:10.1163/156854008783797507.
  5. ^ Kennedy, H.; Richardson, C.A.; Duarte, C.M.; Kennedy, D.P. (2001). "Diet and association of Pontonia pinnophylax occurring in Pinna nobilis: insights from stable isotope analysis". Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. 81 (1): 177–178. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  6. ^ Butler, A., Vicente, N., De Gaulejac, B. (1993). Ecology of the pteroid bivalves P. nobilis bicolor Gmelin and P. nobilis L. Marine Life, 3(1-2), 37-45.
  7. ^ a b Centoducati, G., Tarsitano, E., Bottalico, A., Marvulli, M., Lai, O., Crescenzo, G. (2006). Monitoring of the Endangered Pinna nobilis Linee, 1758 in the Mar Grande of Taranto (Ionian Sea, Italy). In the Environ Monit Assess (2007) 131:339-347.
  8. ^ a b Hill, John E. (2009) Through the Jade Gate to Rome: A Study of the Silk Routes during the Later Han Dynasty, 1st to 2nd centuries CE. John E. Hill. BookSurge, Charleston, South Carolina. ISBN 978-1-4392-2134-1. See Section 12 plus "Appendix B – Sea Silk". pp. 468–476.
  9. ^ Reuters video about the Pinna nobilis relocation

Further reading[edit]

  • Hill, John E. 2004. The Peoples of the West. A draft annotated translation of the 3rd century Weilüe – see Section 12 of the text and Appendix D.
  • Laufer, Berthold. 1915. "The Story of the Pinna and the Syrian Lamb", The Journal of American Folk-lore 28.108:103–128.
  • McKinley, Daniel L. 1988. "Pinna and Her Silken Beard: A Foray Into Historical Misappropriations". Ars Textrina: A Journal of Textiles and Costumes, Vol. Twenty-nine, June 1998, Winnipeg, Canada. pp. 9–223.
  • Maeder, Felicitas 2002. "The project Sea-silk – Rediscovering an Ancient Textile Material." Archaeological Textiles Newsletter, Number 35, Autumn 2002, pp. 8–11.
  • Maeder, Felicitas, Hänggi, Ambros and Wunderlin, Dominik, Eds. 2004. Bisso marino : Fili d’oro dal fondo del mare – Muschelseide : Goldene Fäden vom Meeresgrund. Naturhistoriches Museum and Museum der Kulturen, Basel, Switzerland. (In Italian and German).
  • Schafer, Edward H. 1967. The Vermillion Bird: T'ang Images of the South. University of California Press.
  • Turner, Ruth D. and Rosewater, Joseph 1958. "The Family Pinnidae in the Western Atlantic" Johnsonia, Vol. 3 No. 38, 28 June 1958, pp. 285–326.
  • R. Tucker Abbott & S. Peter Dance, 1982, “Compendium of seashells: a color guide to more than 4,200 of the world’s marine shells”, E.P. Dutton Inc., New York. ISBN 0-525-93269-0.

External links[edit]