Saturday, November 16, 2013

Ming the mollusk

The news is that a bivalve of the species Arctica islandica discovered in Iceland in 2006 is much older than the previously determined 405 years. Like trees, clams grow another layer on their shells each year, so scientists just had to count them up to know how old the animal was. Well, they miscounted and a fresh count – confirmed by carbon dating – shows that "Ming" (IMAGE ABOVE), as the clam is affectionately known, lived to the astounding age of 507! That makes it the oldest animal on record. The species' slow metabolism allowed Ming to live its life, which began in 1499 A.D., in slow motion. But much has been made of the fact that that long life was brought to a halt by the researchers at Bangor University in Wales in order to assess its age. Paul Butler defends the team's action on ScienceNordic and puts it in perspective: After the story hit the media, we were contacted by people who were upset that the ocean quahog had been killed. But we had no idea it was that old before it was too late. I also think it’s worth keeping in mind that we caught a total of 200 ocean quahogs on our Iceland expedition. Thousands of ocean quahogs are caught commercially every year, so it is entirely likely that some fishermen may have caught quahogs that are as old as or even older than the one we caught.” Plus, if the record is expanded to include primitive organisms, the winner would be the glass sponge (Hexactinellida). Believed to reach an age of 15,000 years, some specimens are thought to have been alive for 23,000 years!

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