A new species of tiny wood-munching clams shaped like little penises have been discovered at the bottom of the ocean with unique adaptations that allow them to feed on wood.
Yes, you read all of those things correctly.
The newly described aquatic animals have a special tube-like organ called a siphon that enables them to extend out from their shell and into the ocean water so that they can extract oxygen with their gills. As for their inappropriate body shape, well, that comes in handy when they’re looking for a meal.
The clams eat timber that has made its way to the bottom of the ocean either in the form of washed away trees, logs, or manmade artifacts. In order to feed, they flex muscles and stone their shells against the wood in order to scrape off little bits, then feed the sawdust and digest it with special bacteria found in their gills like oceanic termites.
“There’s not just one tree-cleaner-upper in the ocean, they’re actually diverse, ” said the study’s lead author Janet Voight in a statement. “Imagine living at the bottom of the ocean as a tiny swimming clam; you either have to find a sunken piece of wood or die. You wouldn’t think there’d be that many kinds of clams doing this. But we’ve now found that there are six different groups, called genera, and around sixty different species.”
The researchers physically examined the clams, as well as conducted DNA analysis, to determine that there are at least six different genera that make up the family. Three of these genu they have described for the first time in the Journal of Molluscan Studies.
“You think, am I find everything that’s there, are there cryptic species, am I over-splitting them and going crazy? It’s really scary checking yourself against the DNA, but the results matching what I saw gave me a lot of confidence, ” said Voight.
The new genu are named Abiditoconus ( concealed cone ), Spiniapex ( spiny tip-off ), and Feaya. The new clams are tiny, some evaluate smaller than a pea. They settle in massive numbers and play an important role in deep-sea ecosystems.
“We have no idea how much timber is at the bottom of the ocean, but there’s probably a lot more than we suppose, ” said Voight. “After big storms, we estimate that millions of tons of wood are washed out to sea. What if these clams weren’t there to help eat it? Think how long it would take the timber to rot. The clams contribute to the cycling of carbon, they play an integral part in inducing the wood into something that the other animals at the bottom of the ocean can get energy from. It could even affect sea level rise. It blows me away.”