CLOSE
Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University
Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University

This Rare Shipworm Is Not Safe for Work

Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University
Matthew Modoono / Northeastern University

Scientists recently found a massive, suggestively shaped shipworm squelching through the mudflats of the Philippines—the first time the creature has been spotted alive. They described the “beefy, muscular” animal in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Shipworms are extraordinary creatures. They’re best known for making marine archaeologists' lives harder by riddling sunken ships with holes. As our planet's oceans heat up, so, too, does the rivalry between researchers and shipworms, which are moving fast into now-comfortably warm waters full of Viking ships. It's an "alarming scenario," the leaders of Denmark's Wreck Protect project note on their site.


Michael C. Rygel via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Shipworms aren't true worms, but bivalves like mussels and clams. But where a clam’s slimy foot is relatively short, the shipworm’s just keeps going. The majority of shipworm species are “very delicate, translucent, usually white, beige or pink,” lead investigator Daniel Distel of Northeastern University in a statement. “They’re mostly small, a few centimeters long.”

And then there’s Kuphus polythalamia, which is decidedly … not delicate. People have been finding its rigid, tusk-like, 3- to 5-foot-long shells for hundreds of years, so scientists knew the giant shipworm existed. They’d just never seen one alive.

Then a Philippine television channel aired a documentary about a strange lagoon where long, stiff stalks emerged like fence posts from the mud, and local people ate the shipworm as a delicacy. A researcher sent the video to Distel and his colleagues, all of whom got pretty excited.

"For a biologist who is interested in these bivalves, it's like a unicorn," said senior author Margo Haygood of the University of Utah.

Distel, Haygood, and their team went on an expedition to the muddy lagoon, and there they found the shipworms. They rinsed off one specimen, packed it in a PVC pipe, and ferried it carefully back to the lab for closer inspection.

"When I took that thing out of the tube, there was a collective gasp among the whole group," says Distel, "along with quite a number of expletives." The shipworm was “like a baseball bat.”

The creature from the sticky lagoon is more than just an oddity. Unlike other shipworms, it doesn’t seem to eat wood—or anything else, for that matter. It’s not a matter of scarcity; the lagoon where the researchers picked their K. polythalamia was full of rotting wood. But that bounty goes untouched, and the giant shipworm’s digestive organs have withered to nearly nothing. So how does it live?

By making friends with microbes. The shipworm "consumes" hydrogen sulfide gas, a natural byproduct of wood decay, which is then processed into nutrients by the bacteria living within its enormous gills.

If it doesn't feed on the wood itself, why bother with wood at all? The researchers believe K. polythalamia is a descendent of a wood-eating ancestor, but that over time it formed this unique relationship with the bacteria it hosts. "We believe that somewhere along the line a shipworm acquired a sulfur-oxidizing bacteria as a symbiont, and it was able to get energy not just from the wood but also from the inorganic gas hydrogen sulfide coming from the wood as it rotted," Distel said. "Eventually the new symbiosis completely replaced the old symbiosis."

Now there's a way to make nice with the archaeologists.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
The Simple Way to Protect Your Dog From Dangerous Rock Salt
iStock
iStock

Winter can be a tough time for dogs. The cold weather usually means there are fewer opportunities for walks and more embarrassing accessories for them to wear. But the biggest threat to canines this time of year is one pet owners may not notice: the dangerous rock salt coating the streets and sidewalks. If you live someplace where this is a problem, here are the steps you need to take to keep your pooch safe until the weather warms up, according to Life Hacker.

Rock salt poses two major hazards to pets: damage to their feet and poisoning from ingestion. The first is the one most pet owners are aware of. Not only do large grains of salt hurt when they get stuck in a dog’s paws, but they can also lead to frostbite and chemical burns due to the de-icing process at work. The easiest way to prevent this is by covering your dog’s paws before taking them outside. Dog booties get the job done, as do protective balms and waxes that can be applied directly to their pads.

The second danger is a little harder to anticipate. The only way you can stop your dog from eating rock salt from the ground is to keep a close eye on them. Does your dog seem a little too interested in a puddle or a mound of snow? Encourage them to move on before they have a chance to take a lick.

If, for some reason, you forget to follow the steps above and your pet has a bad encounter with some winter salt, don’t panic. For salty feet, soak your dog's paws in warm water once you get inside to wash away any remaining grit. If your dog exhibits symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation and you suspect they’ve ingested rock salt, contact your vet right away.

Even with the proper protection, winter can still create an unsafe environment for dogs. Check out this handy chart to determine when it’s too cold to take them for a walk.

[h/t Life Hacker]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
arrow
Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER