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.

Rhode Island Approves Bill to Create an Animal Abuser Registry

iStock/Kerkez
iStock/Kerkez

In what could be a major step toward curbing animal cruelty, Rhode Island just passed a bill requiring convicted abusers to be placed on a statewide registry. The objective? To make sure they don’t adopt another animal.

According to KUTV, the bill was approved by the Rhode Island House of Representatives on Thursday and is awaiting Senate approval. Under the law, anyone convicted of abusing an animal would be required to pay a $125 fee and register with the database. The collection of names will be made available to animal shelters and adoption agencies, which will be required to check the registry before adopting out any pets. If the prospective owner’s name appears, they will not be permitted to adopt the animal.

Convicted abusers have five days to register, either from the time of their conviction if no jail time is mandated or from the time of their release. The prohibition on owning another animal lasts 15 years. If they're convicted a second time, they would be banned for life.

A number of communities across the country have enacted similar laws in recent years, including Hillsborough County in Florida, Cook County in Illinois, and New York City. The state of Louisiana was fielding a bill last week, but the proposal was ultimately pulled from committee consideration after a critical response from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The group’s policy statement argues that registries are costly to maintain, not often utilized by adoption centers, and don’t address the potential for abusers to find animals in other ways. The group also asserts that registries may influence potential convictions, as defendants and their legal representation might plea to lesser charges to avoid being placed in the database. The ASPCA instead recommends court-mandated no-contact orders for convicted animal abusers.

[h/t KUTV]

This Inflatable Sloth Pool Float Is the Perfect Accessory for Lazy Summer Days

SwimWays
SwimWays

Summer is the perfect time to channel your inner sloth. Even if you don't plan on sleeping 15 to 20 hours a day, you can take inspiration from the animal's lifestyle and plan to move as little as possible. This supersized sloth pool float from SwimWays, spotted by Romper, will help you achieve that goal.

It's hard not to feel lazy when you're being hugged by a giant inflatable sloth. This floating pool chair is 50 inches long, 40 inches tall, and 36 inches wide, with two "arms" to support you as you lounge in the water.

One of the sloth's paws includes a built-in cup holder, so you don't have to expend any extra energy by getting up in order to stay hydrated. Unlike some pool floats, this accessory allows you to sit upright—which means you can drink, read, or talk to the people around you without straining your neck.

The sloth floatie is available for $35 on Amazon or Walmart. SwimWays also makes the same product in different animal designs, including a panda and a teddy bear. And if you're looking for a pool accessory that gives you even more room to spread out, this inflatable dachshund float may be just what you need.

People sitting in animal pool floats.
SwimWays

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