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.”
“We turned the pipes upright and filled them with seawater and airstones and put the animals in to acclimate," she recalled. "Before long, I looked into the pipe and could see a strong jet of water coming out of the animal’s siphon. It was alive!”
The researchers continued to investigate the specimens, with their results reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The scientists determined that, unlike other shipworms, which munch on wood in the ocean, Kuphus depends on two primary things for its survival: hydrogen sulfide and beneficial bacteria that live in its gills. Hydrogen sulfide, commonly found in rotten eggs and human flatulence, is very poisonous, corrosive, and flammable in large amounts.
Kuphus loves it, though. Distel explained that the bacteria burn it “the same way we burn carbohydrate or sugar to make energy.” The bacteria-made sugars are ultimately what the shipworm lives on. It would seem to have an endless supply of hydrogen sulfide, since its organic-rich mud habitat emits the smelly gas in large quantities.
Distel explained, “Most wood gets in the oceans via erosion of coastal forests and riverbanks. People like to clear forests away from coasts and riverbanks so they can build homes, businesses and resorts. We also like to build dams and have dammed most of the great rivers of the world. As a result, a lot less wood makes it to the sea.”
Read more at Discovery News