Shipworms are a group of wood-boring and wood-feeding bivalves of extraordinary economic, ecological and historical importance. They usually complete their life cycle in wood and most are thought to use wood as a primary source of nutrition. Recently, a new species of shipworms was discovered that bores into carbonate limestone rocks rather than into woody substrates.
Researchers from Northeastern University’s Ocean Genome Legacy Center discovered the new genus and species of shipworm that were burrowing into the bedrock of a river in the Abatan River of Bohol, Philippines.
Dr. Reuben Shipway, a Postdoctoral Research Scientist at Northeastern University, made the discovery on an expedition to the river. They named the new species as Lithoredo abatanica, wherein “Litho” stands for stone and “abatanica” because it was found in the Abatan River.
“This particular species is found only in a stretch of this river in the Philippines that runs about three to five kilometers,” said Dan Distel.
who is the Director of Ocean Genome Legacy.
These pale, blobby creatures have evolved to not only devour a home in rocks, but to also excrete sand. Researchers found the same rock material in the digestive system of the shipworms, but the stones were finely ground in the digestive tract, and were excreted as sand.
Distel also noted, “What’s most remarkable about this is what we don’t know.” Since rocks have no nutrients and nothing of value for the shipworm to live on, researchers are curious to understand what actually goes on inside the shipworms’ bodies and how they survive off of rock.
The researchers’ work is part of the Philippine Mollusk Symbiont project. The project is a collaboration led by universities in the United States and the Philippines to simultaneously document the biodiversity of the islands and search for compounds that could be used in human medicine.