Live, long and black giant shipworm found in Philippines

Photo by AFP

via bbc.com – Scientists have found live specimens of the rare giant shipworm for the first time, in the Philippines.

Details of the creature, which can reach up to 1.55m (5ft) in length and 6cm (2.3in) in diameter, were published in a US science journal.

The giant shipworm spends its life encased in a hard shell, submerged head-down in mud.

Though its existence has been known for years, no living specimen had been studied until now.
Despite its name, the giant shipworm is actually a bivalve – the same group as clams and mussels.
The “rare and enigmatic species”, also known as Kuphus polythamia, is the longest living bivalve known to man, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

The strange shells have been found for centuries, because they are “very sturdy and they last a long time,” said Daniel Distel, the report’s chief author. “But we’ve never known where to find them.”
The discovery came about by chance, when Dr Distel’s team was working in the Philippines with local scientists.

“One of our students came in and said, ‘hey, look at this’ – he’d found this really great video on YouTube,” Dr Distel said.

“We searched the literature and the scientific sources for years, and then we find it on YouTube. It’s the miracle of social media.”

That led a team of scientists from the US, the Philippines and France to find and collect five giant shipworms in Mindanao in a marine bay.

For Dr Distel, who works at Ocean Genome Legacy – a research group and “gene bank”, storing the genetic material of rare ocean creatures – it was a major find.

But the scientists are keeping the exact location secret.

The giant shipworms were once found all over the globe, but the team does not know how many are left. On top of that, the outside tubes “fetch a pretty good price” among shell collectors, so the researchers are being careful.

A video shows the scientists cutting off one end of a shipworm’s shell, before gently shaking it out. A long, slimy black creature is seen sliding out of the tube-like shell.

“It was like opening a soft-boiled egg – I just tapped on it very, very lightly with a chisel, made a circle, and the shell came off, just like an egg,” Dr Distel said.

“It feels a lot like it looks – it’s kind of slimy, but it wasn’t objectionable, it didn’t smell bad.”

The team was, however, surprised by its jet-black colour – most bivalves are light cream colours. It is also extremely muscular – or “beefy” – despite the fact that it lives its life in a shell.

Previously, the best information they had was based off drawings of a poorly-preserved dead specimen from the 1960s.

The creature belongs to the shipworm family, whose members are usually much smaller. They burrow into and feed on rotting wood.

The giant shipworm is unique not just for its size, but also for feeding on nutrients in mud and marine sediment instead, using a type of bacteria.

It therefore has a much smaller digestive system compared to other shipworms.

And while the discovery of the animal itself is exciting, the team’s research has revealed there is an entire hidden ecosystem at play.

The giant shipworm has bacteria that live inside its shell, converting chemicals from the nearby rotting wood into energy and nutrients, similar to what plants do with sunlight.

That, Dr Distel said, will be a big part of their future research on these rare specimens.

Find more like this: News

  • Pinoy floral designer wins big with toilet paper wedding dress
  • DepEd: Proposed drug test for 10-year-old students violates law
  • Love with rights: Why legalize same-sex marriage?
  • Filipino teachers hired by Baltimore may be forced to leave U.S.
  • DOJ lets Sister Patricia Fox keep missionary visa
  • Page 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

    Entertainment

  • Jose Rizal manga to be released in time for his birthday
  • A New Netflix Series Tells the Story of the Philippines’ Drug War. But Its Critics Are Condemning Amo as Propaganda
  • Where in the Philippines was a scene from ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ shot?
  • CLOSEUP: ‘Lion King’ to include Pinoy flavor in world-class show
  • ‘Riverdale’ stars call out PH magazine for ‘disrespectful’ photoshop editing
  • MORE...

    Features

  • A Transgender Paradox, and Platform, in the Philippines
  • The Box That Brings Christmas to the Philippines
  • ‘Pinoy Aquaman’ swims 23 kilometers for peace in Mindanao
  • Former Pinoy dishwasher now owner of pizzeria in Italy
  • Women’s servitude blights Philippine society
  • MORE...

    Tourism

  • Philippines closes ‘cesspool’ tourist island of Boracay
  • Boracay Set to Ban Tourists for Six Months During Island ‘Rehabilitation’
  • Boracay: the good, bad and ugly sides to Philippine island for tourists
  • El Nido to impose daily visitor limits in 3 iconic tourist sites
  • Philippines starts building world’s first resort airport
  • MORE...

    Sports

  • Manny Pacquiao v Lucas Matthysse: Filipino’s career ‘not over’
  • ABL: Justin Brownlee is getting more Pinoy by the day
  • Gilas beats Japan again in FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers
  • 2018 Winter Olympics: Philippines’ Asa Miller lands 70th in giant slalom
  • Michael Christian Martinez: Olympian and pioneer in Philippine figure skating
  • MORE...

    OFW News

  • DOLE suspends OFW deployment to Kuwait
  • Some OFWs turn to vlogging to beat loneliness, share life abroad
  • Overseas Filipino Bank to serve immigrants, workers
  • The ‘bagong bayani’ of the Philippines
  • Which countries pay OFWs the highest?
  • MORE...

    Environment

  • Boracay Set to Ban Tourists for Six Months During Island ‘Rehabilitation’
  • Boracay: the good, bad and ugly sides to Philippine island for tourists
  • Luzon has greatest concentration of unique mammals
  • Mindanao plants 3M trees in an hour, challenges world record
  • Fighting for sharks in the Philippines
  • MORE...

    Pinoy Places
    and Faces