The Clam That Sank a Thousand Ships
December 7, 2016 11:26 AM   Subscribe

What adorable animal is this? It's a type of clam called a shipworm. One of the most destructive forces in the ocean and scourge of explorers. They eat boats, and apparently taste ok. These infamous clams are invading new areas, buoyed by climate change and the 2011 tsunami in Japan (PDF).
posted by joelf (15 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
From the ever fantastic Hakai Magazine
posted by joelf at 11:27 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

It really is the clam before the storm then and not just a typo.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 11:34 AM on December 7, 2016 [17 favorites]

I remember in my US history about how early settlers in the Chesapeake bay area (Jamestown and the likes) found the local worms much more gluttonous than the European worms, causing a great deal more damage to the ships, and farther upstream from the open sea. Neat.
posted by k5.user at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

How long do they live? I would like to sign up to eat one of the shipworms that helped sink the whaleship Essex if I can.
posted by goatdog at 11:40 AM on December 7, 2016

I remember reading about these guys, they've evolved to turn their shell into a kind of drill/tooth to bore into the wood. Crazy.

In the early 19th century, the behaviour and anatomy of the shipworm inspired the French engineer Marc Brunel. Based on his observations of how the shipworm's valves simultaneously enable it to tunnel through wood and protect it from being crushed by the swelling timber, Brunel designed an ingenious modular iron tunnelling framework—the very first tunnelling shield—which enabled workers to tunnel successfully through the highly unstable river bed beneath the Thames. The Thames Tunnel was the first successful large tunnel ever built under a navigable river.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:50 AM on December 7, 2016 [8 favorites]

My favourite teredo fact is included.

Other ports, like New York Harbor, the Hudson River, and Los Angeles Harbor, which had been “protected” by industrial pollution, experienced devastating resurgences of shipworms and wood-boring isopods known, rather charmingly, as gribbles, after cleanup efforts like those required by the United States’ 1972 Clean Water Act.
posted by zamboni at 12:12 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

These are nightmare fuel, thanks for that. I'm surprised by the low number of researchers, but I'm guessing they don't have the same cachet as studying dolphins in Hawaii.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 12:50 PM on December 7, 2016

I have a small wooden box, purchased from a local artisan who makes items out of salvage wood. The wood used for this particular box is perforated all over with teredo holes, making it rather "groovy". Many people who see it don't know what they're looking at but boat people definitely recognize the shipworms' work.
posted by Nerd of the North at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

T'was a bold man who first ate an oyster shipworm.
posted by spacewrench at 1:49 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wash the tamilok and remove the hard portion in the head.

posted by beerperson at 2:22 PM on December 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


/grabs eyebleach from kitchen cabinet
posted by jwest at 6:58 PM on December 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Cool! I saw someone post a few pictures on Facebook while they were harvesting them, they live in Borneo, the people there eat these things. They grow a LOT larger in the tropics, so be warned! The post is not in English so there's not really any point in me linking it.

Picture 1 and Picture 2

They look vaguely delicious and can be eaten raw -imagine a large oyster or mussel.

I heard their wood boring head piece was so ingenious that engineers used what they learned from it to design the actual machines we use today to bore tunnels in the earth.
posted by xdvesper at 8:35 PM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

why do you specifically keep eyebleach in the kitchen
posted by beerperson at 8:25 AM on December 8, 2016

Those shipworm harvesting pictures really trigger my things-with-patterns-of-holes-are-creepy squick. Blurgh.
posted by tavella at 10:13 AM on December 8, 2016

This prompted a memory. Something like 10-15 years ago, I saw some sort of nature documentary on something that looked JUST like the shipworm (but bigger, and white). I remember the following, possibly falsely:

1. It was the Amazon river.
2. It was a relative of the candiru, though not small like candiru.
3. They lowered a carcass in the river, and tens of these things attacked it, wiggling and rotating and burrowing. The carcass was skin and bones in minutes.

Like I said, the details might be false; it's foggy. But the image of the thing is burned into my brain, and looked like the shipworm illustration.

I cannot find this footage or any mention of an organism like this. Anyone have any ideas?
posted by Pacrand at 12:51 PM on December 8, 2016

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