First living example of giant ancient mollusc found in the wild

Apr 19, 2017

By Lef Apostolakis

The first known living sample of a giant, ancient mollusc that previously was known almost exclusively by its shells has been recovered from the Philippines.

A team of researchers have finally come across a live colony of giant shipworms, or Kuphus polythalamia. Washed-up, empty, elephant tusk-like shells first hinted at the existence of this metre-long animal in the 18th century, and there are a few specimens preserved in ethanol in collections around the world. But no one knew exactly what lay within – until now.

Daniel Distel at the Ocean Genome Legacy Center at Northeastern University in Boston and his colleagues were made aware of the animal’s potential location in 2010, when a collaborator pointed out a news story from Philippine TV featuring a local trying to eat one for its supposed medicinal properties. “[It was] amazing! I’ve been looking for them for 20 years,” Distel says. “My friend and mentor Ruth Turner looked for her whole career.”

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