First live specimens of alien-like giant shipworm found in Phillipines

Phillip Butler
April 19, 2017

An worldwide team of researchers were the first to investigate a never before studied species - a giant, black, mud dwelling, worm-like animal. It seems to happen most in extreme environments and with hosts that don't have to move much.

People have known about the existence of the creature for centuries.

The creature, which grows up to five feet long, was something of a science legend that had only previously been identified by its thick, tubular shell the size of a baseball bat that has been found for years.

This changed when an academic happened upon a Philippine television documentary that showed the animals planted in the floor of a muddy lagoon like root vegetables. The discovery of the giant shipworm, a species never before studied, marked the first time scientists had live specimens at hand, according to a USA science journal article published this week.

Despite knowing about the creature for over 200 years, it's the first time a living giant shipworm has been found.

"But we've never known where to find them", he said. "Finding the animal confirmed that", said Haygood. Frankly, I was nervous. Shipworms are so named due to their length and diet of rotten wood - but as we will learn, that is just one of the misconceptions that's been cleared up by the new discovery. Although the researchers explained that this is not uncommon for shipworms, in most cases, these microbes help the mollusks digest wood.

But K. polythalamia, which lives in mud, has no such restrictions, he said.

While the creature has a mouth and a relatively tiny stomach, it also has extra large gills packed with bacteria. The organic-rich mud around its habitat emits hydrogen sulfide, a gas derived from sulfur, which has a distinct rotten egg odor.

Researchers believe that the giant shipworm's symbiotic relationship with bacteria provides evidence of how the mollusk evolved its odd way of feeding itself. "Locals eat it and it serves as an aphrodisiac for them".

The animal relies on symbiotic bacteria in its gills instead of feeding, the article added, as the bacteria break down the mud's hydrogen sulfide. This process is similar to the way plants use the sun's energy to convert carbon dioxide in the air into simple carbon compounds during photosynthesis. As a result, many of Kuphus's internal digestive organs have shrunk from lack of use.

But not everyone is as delighted as Distel and his team are with the giant shipworm.

"This particular species fall square in the middle of the family, so we know it had to have a wood-eating ancestor", Haygood said.

The trail that led to the slippery specimen began when a team of Northeastern University researchers came across a Philippines news report on YouTube that featured footage of the creatures.

An enormous, worm-like mollusk called a shipworm that inhabits a shell resembling an elephant's tusk was recently seen for the first time ever.

Other reports by Ligue1talk

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