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Scientists Discover the ‘Unicorn of Mollusks’: A Giant Elusive Clam

Source: The Washington Post/ Ben Guarino - April 19, 2017 in Science/Tech

Scientists Discover the ‘Unicorn of Mollusks’: A Giant Elusive Clam
Photo: Ben Mieremet/OSD/NOAA

For hundreds of years, biologists knew of the giant shipworm only from shell fragments and a handful of dead specimens. Those specimens, despite being preserved in museum jars, had gone to mush. Still, the shipworm’s scattered remains made an outsize impression on biologists. Its three-foot-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.”

And yet no one could get their hands on a living example of the giant shipworm, or Kuphus polythalamia. Unlike with other shipworms, named because they ate their way into the sides of wooden boats, no one knew where the giant shipworm lived.

“It’s sort of the unicorn of mollusks,” Margo Haygood, a marine microbiologist at the University of Utah, told The Washington Post.

The habitat of the world’s longest clam is a mystery no longer. As Haygood and her colleagues reported Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the search for the giant shipworm has come to an end.

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