Who said that a scientist’s life is an easy one? Sure the job comes with a nice white coat and some really cool technical equipment, but scientists don’t always have an easy life.
Sometimes, they’ll be out investigating a natural phenomenon and they’ll discover something so incredibly repulsive that it might give you nightmares for a month or more.
That’s exactly what happened to a group of scientists working in marine biology off the coast of the Philippines recently. You won’t believe what they found lurking beneath the waves there, it was a truly disturbing sight.
10. Reminds You More Of Heaven, Not Hell
This is the coast of the Philippines. It’s got that look of perfect tropical destinations, doesn’t it? The perfectly clear water and beautiful beaches, they all add up to somewhere we’d all like to take a vacation, don’t they? Yet, there are monsters lurking beneath the waves.
9. Giant Shipworms
There has been a lot of evidence for the giant shipworm in recent years. Scientists have found many traces of where the creature has been in the past but no-one has ever been able to find a live specimen or even a body to examine. That is until recently.
8. A New, Horrifying Discovery
Daniel Distel is a microbiologist who works at Northeastern University. He recently published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science which described the process of discovering a live giant shipworm along with some theories of its evolution. Daniel hopes that this will help expand the range of human knowledge.
7. Two Decades Huntin’
Dr. Distel’s been looking for the giant shipworm for a very long time. He started searching nearly two decades ago. He says, “We were used to shipworms, which are very delicate creatures and much smaller. This thing is a really beefy animal.” The images that have been released of the shipworm bear this conclusion out.
6. People Actually Eat These
The live specimens weren’t discovered by chance and it turns out that all the science team needed to do was talk to the local people. The shipworms are a delicacy to the people of the Philippines and they like to eat them for the creature’s supposed medicinal properties.
5. Fishermen Lead Them There
Once Dr. Distel had found a group of Filipinos eating the giant shipworm, it was easy to trace it back to its source. The diners took him to the market who, in turn, introduced him to some local fishermen who were only too pleased to escort Dr. Distel to the site they came from.
4. They’re Scary, But Could Save Us
The shipworm has a unique property. It has bacteria inside its cells which enable it to break down hydrogen sulfide which would normally be poisonous. “Understanding how an animal can live with bacteria inside their cells and not get sick and die could help inform our understanding of infection,” said Dr. Distel.
3. Not A Worm
The name “shipworm” is actually not accurate. The shipworm is a from a bivalve family and is essentially a form of mussel. There are many sizes of shipworm and the smallest live in wood, as pictured here. They burrow into the wood and slowly digest it. The giant shipworm also eats wood, but much more of it.
2. Filipino Spaghetti
The Filipino people don’t call it a shipworm. They call it a “tamilok” and they’ve known that the creatures are tasty for centuries. They’re prepared in vinegar and the eaten in a manner very similar to spaghetti. They are reported to be very tasty, though it’s not known if Dr. Distel and his team ate their specimens.
1. That’s A Shell Around It
The white case you saw the shipworm emerge from is, in fact, a shell. Bivalves all form a shell of some form, the most common shells are as shown in the image here but the shipworm has evolved a single long shell with just a small entrance way at the top.
The giant shipworm may look like it belongs in a horror movie but it’s quite benign. It can’t hurt anyone and only feeds on wood.
It may also, one day, turn out to be important to our understanding of medicine. Being able to safely accept bacteria in the human body might be a way to prevent unnecessary infection.
This is particularly important as antibiotics are currently losing their effectiveness. Humanity desperately needs new options for dealing with bacteria or in the next 50 years, we will see a huge upsurge in people dying of what were once preventable conditions.