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Ocean Termites

Ocean Termites

May 16, 2012

Those exploring the wreck of the Titanic have found none of the elaborate woodwork that was the hallmark of the luxury liner’s grand staircase. Any wood that does remain is riddled with tunnels made by burrowing shipworms. The scourge of wooden vessels, pilings, and piers, shipworms are actually extremely long clams from the genus Teredo that use their sharp shells to bore through wood. Symbiotic bacteria in their gut digest the wood and provide it with energy to live. As Teredo grow, their tunnels get larger and larger, eventually becoming big enough to compromise a ship’s hull or destroy a pier. Some scientists are also studying the role that sunken wood plays in supporting deep-sea life. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

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