Science fiction horror wriggles into reality with discovery of giant

Gwen Vasquez
April 19, 2017

A giant, black, worm-like bivalve whose existence was only known from a few dead specimens and shell fragments has at long last been discovered and investigated by a team of scientists from the United States and Philippines, the University of Utah announced Monday in a statement. With all the unusual lifeforms that can dwell in remote and dark corners of the Earth, you do wonder just how these creatures are brought to life and how they survive.

Giant shipworms can measure up to three feet long, which means that they become too large for their shell.

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It lives in what the researchers called a "pretty stinky place", in mud that emits the foul-smelling hydrogen sulfide.

A giant shipworm is a bivalve, like a clam or an oyster, and it has its own shell.

The team led by Northeastern University's Daniel Distel were led to their prized shipworm by foodies in the Philippines, where the shells of the creatures were often sold to collectors at high prices.

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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Its 1m-long tubular shells - the shipworm isn't technically a worm but a bivalve - were so striking that Swedish taxonomist Carl Linnaeus included the animal in his book that introduced the scientific naming system "Systema Naturae". So, scientists followed the clues in the video.

There, they found the giant shipworm, that can reach nearly 5ft in length. And logs belonging to a 15th-century vessel from Great Britain describe a layer of lead as a defense against shipworms, "which many times pearseth and eateth through the strongest oak that is", according to a study published in 1973 in the journal Marine Fisheries Review. Until now, scientists have only known the giant shipworm by the baseball bat-like shells of calcium carbonate it leaves behind. The method is similar to the feeding strategy of the species which colonize hydrothermal vents.

Unlike the "regular" shipworms that burrow in wood that have wash into the sea, the researchers found that the Kuphus species thrive in mud rich in organic nutrients and hydrogen sulfide. It also turns to bacteria to obtain nourishment, but in a different way. That could be the reason why it evolved from consuming rotten wood to living on hydrogen sulfide in the mud.

As a result the worm's digestive system seems to have withered away down the generations until it is as vestigial as the human appendix. Researchers found little fecal matter in its body. Haywood says it may also explain this species of shipworms size. Scientists plan to study its microbiome.

Because the animal had never been studied, little was known about its life history, habitat, or biology.

'But we've never known where to find them'.

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