Crassostrea virginica

Geographic Range

Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico and the West Indies. It was introduced to San Francisco Bay but did not survive.


Although water temperature affects growth rate, it appears to be irrelevant in site selection. Oysters inhabit areas of fairly constant turbidity and salinity. The oyster is eurytherma,l or able to withstand a wide range of temperatures including freezing temperatures.

Physical Description

The Eastern oyster is relatively large, growing up to 10 cm. in length. It is normally somewhat pear-shaped in outline, but members of this species vary greatly in size and shape. The shell is dirty gray externally and white internally, except for the muscle scar, which is deep purple.


Reproductive organs can be readily observed only during the breeding season. There is no reproductive activity during the winter. Sexual maturity is a function of size rather than age. The first spawning usually occurs when the oyster is 2 years of age. Fertilization occurs when huge numbers of sperm sperm and eggs are expelled from the male or female and meet in the water.


Oysters usually colonize in beds. Competition for space is a most important source of mortality. Uncrowded, oysters can live to be 20 years old. The beds are a permanent social structure unless they are separated physically and forcefully. Otherwise, the oysters will re-congregate if they are capable.

Food Habits

After spawning in early spring, the oyster loses a great deal of weight. This event usually coincides with the spring bloom of phytoplankton, their primary food source. Feeding is dependent upon water temperature; more food is consumed at higher temperatures than at lower.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Oyster cultch or oyster spat is fairly valuable to jewelry trade, though it is rather abundant, due to the large numbers of existing oysters and their relatively high rate of reproductive success. Certain lime or cement coatings are enhaced by use of the cultch. Some Eastern oysters produce pearls as well. Oyster meat is also smoked and canned as a food.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

A major problem caused by the oyster is fouling, or attachment, often to boats.

Conservation Status

Oyster health is highly contingent upon water quality. Chemical contamination is widespread and detrimental. Extensive efforts are being made in British Columbia to purify water to benefit all aquatic organisms. Toxicity in shellfish can be passed on to consumers, resulting in a condition termed PSP in humans, which is potentially fatal.

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Other Comments

Although it is only distantly related to the true pearl oyster (which, in fact, is not an oyster), it can and occasionally does produce pearls. The Eastern oyster can exist in water of extreme variations in turbidity and salinity.


Paula Osborne (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map


living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


structure produced by the calcium carbonate skeletons of coral polyps (Class Anthozoa). Coral reefs are found in warm, shallow oceans with low nutrient availability. They form the basis for rich communities of other invertebrates, plants, fish, and protists. The polyps live only on the reef surface. Because they depend on symbiotic photosynthetic algae, zooxanthellae, they cannot live where light does not penetrate.


Pacific Oyster Culture in British Columbia by D. B. Quayle <BR>

Production of Aquatic Animals by C. E. Nash

Abbot, R. T. 1954. American Seashells. D. Van Nostrand Co., Inc.