Saturday, 12 April 2008

Ming the Clam


Last year a scientific team from Bangor University School of Ocean Sciences discovered a 405-year-old Arctica islandica clam. It has been named Ming after the Chinese dynasty which ruled when it settled (the mollusc equivalent of being born), at the bottom of the ocean. The shellfish was dredged as part of a study into climate change over the centuries but because of its extreme age it is now also being investigated by a team of biologists looking into ageing. So significant is the find that Help The Aged have awarded a £40,000 grant to the team to investigate how the mollusc has survived over the centuries.

The record-breaking shellfish is 31 years older than the previous oldest animal, another clam. Arctica islandica is variously known as the Icelandic cyprine, ocean quahog, mahogany clam, mahogany quahog, black quahog, and black clam. It was among a haul of 3,000 empty shells and 34 live molluscs taken to the laboratory. Unfortunately, by the time its true age had been established Ming was already dead. But the scientists aged the 3.4in clam by drilling through and counting the rings on its shell - the science of sclerochronology. The shell only grows in summer when the water is warmer and the plankton it eats is plentiful. Each year a layer as thin as 0.1mm is laid down.

Ming was 'born' when Queen Elizabeth I was on the throne and William Shakespeare was writing The Merry Wives of Windsor. It far outlived other venerable animal species such as the Galapagos tortoise (the oldest known specimen of which lived for 176 years) and the bowhead whale (130 years).

The oldest known...
Tree, bristlecone pine: USA: 4,844 (years)
Fish, lake sturgeon: 154
Mammal: bowhead whale: 130
Human: Jeanne Calment: 122
Macaw: 106
Elephant: 78
Horse: 62
Japanese salamander: 55
Herring gull: 49
Bat: 32
Dog: 24
Rabbit: 18

1 comment:

Hello - thanks for dropping by to leave a comment. Your comments are much appreciated even if I don't always reply. They will appear as soon as they have been moderated.

Blog Archive