A rare species of giant shipworm has mostly lived in myth since its 3 to 5 foot-long tusk-resembling shells were first documented in the 18th century. Shipworms — which are actually a type of saltwater clam — once conquered the seas by feasting on wood, sinking ships in the process, but this particular species, Kuphus polythalamia, was recently found planted like carrots in mud at the bottom of a lagoon in Mindanao, Philippines.
The stench of the site, which was previously used as a log storage area, was overwhelming, yet researchers from Sultan Kudarat State University managed to collect five live Kuphus individuals, allowing them to study the live specimen inside the shell for the first time.
The scientists packed their precocious cargo into PVC pipes and escorted the shipworms to the University of the Philippines, where Daniel Distel and his team eagerly awaited their arrival.
“We really did not know what to expect,” Distel, a research professor and director of the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University, told Seeker. “Most clams are white or beige or pinkish inside.”