Giant Black Shipworm

  • Scientists have discovered a bizarre species of shipworm — a giant, black worm-like animal that plants itself into mud like carrots and gets energy from noxious fumes of sulphur.
  • The existence of the creature has been known for centuries. The tusk—like shells, measuring three to five feet long, were first documented in the 18th century.
  • “The shells are fairly common. But we have never had access to the animal living inside,”
  • Scientists set up an expedition and found live specimens of Kuphus polythalamia planted like carrots in the mud of a shallow lagoon.
  • The giant shipworm was radically different from other wood-eating shipworms.
  • The worm was was found in a remote habitat — a lagoon laden with rotting wood.
  • Normal shipworm burrows deep into the wood of trees that have washed into the ocean, munching on and digesting the wood with the help of bacteria.
  • Unlike its shipworm cousins, Kuphus lives in the mud. It also turns to bacteria to obtain nourishment, but in a different way.
  • Kuphus lives in a pretty stinky place. The organic—rich mud around its habitat emits hydrogen sulfide, a gas derived from sulphur, which has a distinct rotten egg odour.
  • This environment may be noxious for you and me, but it is a feast for the giant shipworm, researchers said.
  • Kuphus themselves do not eat, or if they do, they eat very little. Instead, they rely on beneficial bacteria that live in their gills that make food for them.
  • Like tiny chefs, these bacteria use the hydrogen sulfide as energy to produce organic carbon that feeds the shipworm.
  • This process is similar to the way green plants use the Sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide in the air into simple carbon compounds during photosynthesis.

Source: The hindu

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