A new species of wood-boring clam found at the bottom of the ocean has captured the attention of the internet thanks to its rather NSFW appearance.
In a new paper, scientists presented gilsonorum, the new species, and three new genera, namely Abditoconus, Spiniapex, and Feaya. These clams eat driftwood that floats down the river and ends up on the ocean floor.
"There's not just one tree-cleaner-upper in the ocean, they're really diverse," said Janet Voight, Associate Curator of the Invertebrate Zoology at the Field Museum and lead author of the paper. "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."
Phallic Wood-Boring Clams
A wood-boring clam, as its name suggests, are often found buried in wood that floats down rivers, gets waterlogged, and sinks at the bottom of the ocean. They have a tube-like organ called a siphon that extends out of its shell, sucks ocean water, and extracts oxygen.
The aquatic animal also uses its siphon to rock its shell against wood and then scrape off sawdust that it could eat. A wood-boring clam's siphon also looks very phallic.
The scientists revealed that with the new discovery, there are now a total of six genera and around 60 different species of wood-boring clams known to mankind. To classify the wood-boring clams, the team examined available data on the entire family of deep-sea wood-boring clams and analyzed their DNA.
This is the first time that the new species and three new genera of wood-boring clams have been described in a study.
According to the researchers, the differences between the wood-boring clams are not immediately apparent. The Abditoconus, for example, have "hidden cones" that cover its siphon. Meanwhile, the name Spiniapex translates to "spiny tips" as a reference to the barb-like texture of the tip of its siphon.
Keeping The Ocean Floor Clean
The researchers also revealed the important role that wood-boring clams play in marine ecosystems. The invertebrates help keep the bottom of the ocean clean from wood that otherwise would take years to rot.
"After big storms, we estimate that millions of tons of wood are washed out to sea," said Voight. "The clams contribute to the cycling of carbon, they play an integral part in making 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."
The study was published in the Journal of Molluscan Studies on Tuesday, April 2.