W hat’s the size of a baseball bat, with a gunmetal-black body and a pink, fleshy tail, resembling something from Ridley Scott’s film ‘Alien’? A giant shipworm, recently discovered in the Philippines.
Scientists have known of the creature's existence for 200 years, but until now had only ever seen fossils of ‘the thing’. The creature remained a mystery, proof of its existence based on a poorly-preserved museum specimen found several decades ago.
Then a team from Northeastern University in Boston stumbled across a clue to the creature’s location in a Philippine news report on YouTube. After consulting locals they were pointed to a lagoon full of rotting wood, the coordinates of which have been kept a secret to stop the site from being disturbed.
Sticking out of the muddy water were a crop of tubes - actually shells - almost one metre in length. When the researchers opened up one of these tubes they were shocked. Dan Distel, co-author of the study, told The Guardian: “The animal is much beefier, more muscular than any other bivalve I had ever seen… To me it was almost like finding a dinosaur.”
The worm is in fact a type of clam that lives in shell tubes eating bacteria produced in its gills. How it manages to grow so large remains a mystery, since it possesses a very small digestive system.
Simon Watt, a biologist and president of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society, was excited by the discovery, adding “it might well be monstrous, but that does not mean that it isn’t marvellous.”