Living in your own filth may not sound like an attractive lifestyle, but the wood-eating species of ocean clam has found a way to make it work for them.
A study published Thursday in Marine Biodiversity explores the rough, secret lives of pea-sized oysters from the branch of the mollusk Xylophaga dorsalis.
Oysters use their shells to pierce wood underwater. Most similar oyster species have two long pipe-like siphons, one to draw clean water and the other to expel waste away from their bodies. “But in these related hyper-bad drills, the siphon that expels deoxygenated water and excrement is short; it stays inside the borehole in the tree,” lead author Janet Voight said in a statement. As the researcher put it, “they poop in their well.”
Voight is a zoologist and molluscist at the Field Museum in Chicago. The study examined a mysterious trend found in oyster-pressed ocean wood: Some wooden pieces remained structurally sound, but others crumbled easily in the researchers’ hands. A closer look revealed that “poop chimney” oysters were responsible for the weak wood.
The study looked at samples of oyster-pressed wood from around the world. Researchers placed pieces of wood in the ocean so they could study creatures like these oysters. One of the specimens mentioned in the study spent two years under the waves and reappeared with the appearance of being trampled by poop party oysters.
Oysters don’t seem to care about their lousy surroundings and may even use poop as a sign for others of their own species to hang out in their wooden dwellings. “They’re definitely not very hygienic, and yet they show no evidence of immune problems,” Voight said. “They’re healthy, obviously going to town in the woods. So why did they evolve that way?”
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These special oysters are tough little creatures. So even if many of their own species emerge, use up the available oxygen and further pollute their habitat, they will still thrive. This happens thanks to special adaptations, including a substance in their blood that allows them to get more oxygen. They can survive in low-oxygen environments that would make their relatives sick. This means less competition with other sea creatures.
Oysters aren’t trying to be obnoxious. “They don’t do it on purpose, their anatomy allows them to do it,” Voight said. Their anatomical quirks also help them live their best lives.
I hope this study reveals a new phrase: Happy as a mussel in a chimney.