- Fiza Pirani The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The mysterious existence of the giant shipworm has been known for more than 200 years, but until now, no scientists have been able to uncover the creature themselves.
Daniel Distel and his team of scientists from the U.S., France and the Philippines published their findings about the specimen —which isn't technically a worm but a bivalve — in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday.
After pinpointing the mollusks’ whereabouts, they trekked to a marine bay in Mindanao, Philippines, to discover the rare specimens encased in hard mollusks buried in the mud.
“It’s like finding the lost elephant graveyard or finding a dinosaur wandering around, live,” Distel told the New York Times.
To examine the shipworm, the team had to carefully dissect it from its shell.
What came out was a long, slimy, beefy, dark black specimen.
Distel likened the process to “opening a soft-boiled egg.”
Another team member, University of Utah medicinal chemistry research professor Margo Haywood, said the shipworm was nearly as heavy as a branch.
But a fully-grown one could grow to be 3.3 feet long.
When trying to understand the shipworm’s mode of survival, they were surprised to find that the newly discovered creature had a tiny digestive system and relies on bacteria in its gills that use hydrogen sulfide in the water for energy.
“Gigantism is usually an indication of ample nutrients,” Distel told the Guardian.
Haywood said it’s possible the consumed hydrogen sulfide came from rotting wood or other organic matter in the specimen’s environment.
Still, there are many questions surrounding the shipworm’s discovery and its symbiotic relationship with the chemicals.