Of all the strange creatures that live on the ocean floor, one newly discovered aquatic animal might look surprisingly familiar. This wood-boring clam bears a striking resemblance to, well, wood.
Researchers have discovered three new groups and one new species of deep-sea wood-munching clams, according to a new paper in the Journal of Molluscan Studies. They burrow through waterlogged pieces of wood that have fallen to the bottom of the sea, then eat the sawdust they’ve scraped off. The clams work in massive numbers to eat away at wood washed out to sea from storms. “We have no idea how much wood is at the bottom of the ocean, but there’s probably a lot more than we think,” said Janet Voight, the lead author of the study and Associate Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Field Museum in Chicago.
The clams play an important role in deep-sea ecosystems. “These 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,” Voight said. “It could even affect sea level rise. It blows me away.”
Don’t get too excited about their phallic shape, though: they happen to be about the size of a pea.