One afternoon, a researcher walked into his lab at Northeastern’s Marine Science Center and saw something shocking: A competitive sexual frenzy was happening right before his eyes, with individuals wrestling and sparring for dominance. The participants? A cluster of shipworms—marking the first time this unusual sexual behavior has been observed and documented.
Shipworms are fleshy, worm-like mollusks that use their shells to carve into unprotected logs, driftwood, docks, and ships and make themselves at home. Once burrowed, the wood-eating clams stay put, slowly eating through their own habitats (and causing billions of dollars of damage to wooden structures in the oceans).
Shipworms have two snorkel-like siphons that are used to bring water in and expel waste. These siphons are the only part of the clam that protrudes from its wooden home.
But, as it turns out, that’s not all those siphons are good for.
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