May 26, 2019 | Updated: 10:32 PM EDT

Rare Giant Shipworm Found In Philippines Solve Shell Mystery

Apr 19, 2017 10:53 AM EDT

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Discovery Of Giant Shipworms In The Philippines Considered A Rare Find By Scientists
(Photo : Cliff Bao/YouTube) Scientists have given up hop of every finding a live specimen of the giant shipworm until they found several samples in a Philippine lagoon.

The giant shipworm that scientists suspected lived in sturdy giant shells used to be a stuff that science fiction horrors are made of. While its existence was known, no actual specimen was found for educational and research purposes. However, the discovery of five live shipworm specimens in the island of Mindanao in the Philippines confirmed that the urban legend was indeed real.

A science journal in the United States published the new discovery. The giant shipworm measured as long as five feet with a diameter of 2.3 inches, as er BBC. Its hard shell provided shelter and safety to the worm as it stayed submerged in the mud with its head down. It may be called a shipworm but the rare species are known scientifically as "Kuphus polythamia" belonged to the same group as the mussels and clams.

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) indicated that the giant shipworm is not only a bivalve but is the longest one known to humans. The shells that served as its home last for centuries because they are sturdy. Chief Author Daniel Distel said they never knew where to find the worms until they worked with Philippine scientists.

"One of our students came in and said, 'hey, look at this' - he'd found this really great video on YouTube," Distel said. "We searched the literature and the scientific sources for years, and then we find it on YouTube. It's the miracle of social media."

The findings led to a collaboration among scientists from the Philippines, France, and the United States. Distel said the discovery of the giant shipworms in a marine bay in Mindanao was a major breakthrough. The scientists, however, opted to keep the exact location a secret to protect the species since they do not know how many of the worms are left all over the world.

Scientists have documented the existence of the tusk-like shells of the giant shipworm as early as the 18th century, according to UNews. But while the shells were common, this was the first time that they were able to have access to the worm inside the shell. Little was known of the animal species especially its habitat and history. Scientists considered it a very rare specimen.

The giant shipworms were found in a remote lagoon filled with wood in the process of rotting. The findings confirmed the scientist's initial theory that the common shipworm was a lot different from the ones found in the mud although both relied on bacteria for nourishment. The "Kuphus polythamia" found the hydrogen sulfide emitted by its habitat to be very liveable.

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