After Centuries, Scientists Find Live Giant Shipworm

Rare species is like the 'unicorn of mollusks'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 18, 2017 6:54 AM CDT
Updated Apr 23, 2017 10:33 AM CDT

The giant shipworm is actually an extremely long clam—and it is so rare that although it has been known to science for centuries, researchers are only now getting a look at a live one for the first time. Five 3-foot-long specimens found in a lagoon full of rotting wood in the Philippines were collected by researchers who spotted the distinctive long shells in a YouTube video of a local news report. "It's sort of the unicorn of mollusks," University of Utah marine biologist Margo Haygood tells the Washington Post. Haygood and the rest of her team describe the "rare and enigmatic" species in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which contains a video of its dissection.

Researchers say they were surprised to discover that the long creatures, which burrow in marine sediment, have relatively tiny digestive systems packed with microbes that help them digest sulfur compounds. "It's not feeding in any normal way," says Haygood. They were also surprised by the bivalve's unusual color: gunmetal black, with a pink appendage. Simon Watt, president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, applauded the discovery. "It might well be monstrous, but that does not mean that it isn’t marvelous,” he tells the Guardian, noting that its environment is also "pretty disgusting." "If you are down living among murky dirt, then aesthetics are surely not your number one priority," he says. (A beautiful sea dragon species was also seen in the wild for the first time this year.)

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