Like all oysters, Crassostrea virginica is a bivalve mollusk with a hard calcium-carbonaceous shell. Its shell provides protection from predation.
This particular type of oyster has an important environmental value. Like all oysters, C. virginica is a filter feeder. They suck in water and filter out the plankton and detritus to swallow, then spit the water back out, thus cleaning the water around them. One oyster can filter more than 50 gallons of water in 24 hours. Eastern oysters also provide a key structural element within their ecosystem, making them a foundation species in many environments, and they serve as ecosystem engineers in western Atlantic estuaries. Similar to coral reefs, oyster beds provide key habitat for a variety of different species by creating hard substrate for attachment and habitation. Oyster beds have an estimated 50 times the surface area of an equally sized flat bottom. The beds also attract a high concentration of larger predators looking for food.
The eastern oyster, like all members of the family Ostreidae, can make small pearls to surround particles that enter the shell. These pearls, however, are insignificant in size and of no value; the pearl oyster, from which commercial pearls are harvested, is of a different family.