A reader recently sent us a photo and asked, “Do you know what this is?” He guessed that it was a worm at one point in time, but has calcified and is now very brittle. The picture shows a piece of wood covered in tube-like holes. In one of the holes is what appears to be a worm shell:
What an interesting sight! This isn’t the first time we have heard about someone finding worms in wood, but in most cases, they are dealing with some sort of woodboring beetle. We are confident that what our reader has discovered is not a woodboring beetle larva. We think he has found a dried up shipworm!
Shipworms, which are actually saltwater clams, are known by many names including mangrove snakes, sea termites, Teredo worms, and Tamilok. They grow to be about a foot long and have a tiny bivalve shell on their anterior end which they use to excavate wood. Shipworms have a strong appetite for wood, eating rotting mangroves in the tropics and wooden docks or the hulls of wooden ships at sea. These creatures live in waters with ocean salinity, so you won’t come across them in lakes or ponds. They are believed to have originated in the northeast Atlantic ocean but are now found in oceans and seas throughout the world.
In the Phillippines, shipworms are known as Tamilok, and they are a delicacy! People eat them raw, cooked, with spices, or smothered in butter. They are a rich source of vitamin A, iron, calcium, vitamin B12, and zinc. Tamilok apparently tastes like oysters. Since the shipworm our reader found appears to be long gone, we don’t recommend he eat it.
To conclude, we believe the calcified worm our reader found is a dead shipworm! These specimens are found all over the world and are known for burrowing into shipwrecks and feasting on decaying wood.