Giant shipworms were categorized as a species over 200 years ago. However, scientists had never examined a living specimen. Next to nothing was known about the species, but all of that changed recently.
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 last year. Their findings were recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences. Their findings reveal that the giant shipworm is “quite bizarre,” reports Newsweek.
The giant shipworm, whose scientific name is Kuphus Polythalamia, live their lives inside of large shells on the sea floor. They can grow to more than five feet in length. The species gets much larger than other species of shipworms, which are usually much smaller in length. The biologists took a great interest in discovering why these shipworms got so large, reports the Technology Inquirer.
Margo Haygood, a researcher from the University of Utah College of Pharmacy, says that other shipworms have bacteria in their guts and that bacteria breaks down cellulose, which is a stiff material that plant cells are made up of. Haygood states that the Kuphus Polythalamia does not contain substantial amounts of any type of bacteria.
Haygood also discovered that the other shipworms have a large amount of wood pulp in their guts. She shares that these giant shipworms are odd creatures that have a treasure chest of unique bacteria that feeds on hydrogen sulfide. This gas is produced by rotting organic materials on the sea floor and festering wood. This unique situation allows these giant shipworms to live in places that are uninhabitable to most creatures. Haywood says it may also explain this species of shipworms size. Because the shipworm can feast on food resources that move to them they have to move far less than other shipworms, reports the Huffington Post.
Distel shares that the gut microbes convert hydrogen sulfide into sulfate. He states that this process creates energy for the shipworms.
Distel explains that many scientists believe that life actually evolved in the sea’s hydrothermal vents and that life survived by the same biochemical process as the shipworms have. Scientists believe that single cell microbes evolved into animals over a period of a billion or so years. The new research into shipworms seems to point to its evolution harnessing the power of sulfide-digesting bugs. Distel adds that it is a pure example of evolution “coming full circle.”
By Tammy Marie Rose
Photo Courtesy Marvin Altamia