Sulphur-powered giant shipworm unearthed in Philippines

19 April, 2017, 11:09 | Author: Delbert Rhodes
  • Science fiction horror wriggles into reality with discovery of giant sulfur-powered shipworm

In a research paper published to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a team of United States and Filipino researchers were finally able to confirm that a species known to the local populace for centuries was indeed the first ever analysed by science.

Although the scientists knew of the giant shipworm for centuries, the creature had been elusive until a local documentary featured natives cooking and eating it.

The Kuphus polythamia is actually a bivalve, the same species as clams and mussels, despite having the name shipworm. It is covered in a hard calcium carbonate shell and it spends most of its time in the mud of the seabed. It is submerged head-down in mud, which it feeds on.

Video from the study shows scientists carefully slicing the end of the giant shipworm's shell off.

As for the giant shipworm's diet, the team suspected it didn't share its cousins' diet of rotting wood and mud since it was completely encased in its shell.

Daniel Distel, a researcher from Northeastern University and some of his colleagues managed to get their hands on a handful of giant shipworm during a trip they took to the Philippines on April 17 of a year ago.

Researchers who analysed the creature found that although it had its own digestive system, this was shrunken and appeared to be largely redundant.

The research team from the US, France and the Philippines then found a colony of the giant shipworms "planted like carrots" in a shallow lagoon.

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Though its existence has been known for years, no living specimen had been studied until now.

Similarly, the researchers believe that the giant shipworm evolved from wood-eating ancestors that used wood as a "stepping stone" between habitats.

Most shipworms are smaller and feed on rotten wood. The discovery, they said, is akin to finding the "unicorn" of mollusks.

The giant shipworm's feeding method is stranger.

While this in itself is not unusual - normal shipworms also have bacteria living in their gill that help them digest the wood they eat - what the researchers found when studying the giant shipworm was that its bacterial genome contains features, such as sulfur globules, similar to those in other sulfur-oxidizing bacteria.

Taking this as their lead, the researchers launched an expedition which resulted in the incredible find of a live specimen of the Kuphus polythalamia.

Scientists have discovered a weird species of shipworm - a giant, black worm-like animal that plants itself into mud like carrots and gets energy from noxious fumes of sulphur.

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