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Clams and Conches: World-Builders and Literary Stars?

Sep 16, 2015 05:16 PM EDT
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Karst limestone formations, Southeast Asia
Karst limestone formed millions of years ago from the remains of sea creatures, including corals and shells.
(Photo : Flickr: Yeowatzup)

Mollusks, the earth and marine creatures that are the world's most plentiful Tiny House-dwellers, in most cases form shells and live within them. They have soft, unsegmented bodies and live in damp or watery places. 

These invertebrates number at least 52,000 in the world, and more likely inhabit up to 200,000 species. In other words, they're all over the place on this earth of ours. Mollusks include clams, cockles, conches, snails, nautiluses and argonauts.

In 2014, a team of malacologists -- people who study mollusks -- started the first online database of mollusk species, called MolluscaBase, which uses the non-American spelling of mollusk. This will help in keeping track of the many mollusks of the world and what we know about them. 

One of the things we know is how mollusks create shells: Basically they lay down proteins and pour mineral over it, as Texas State University biologist Francis Horne noted here.

No doubt about it, mollusks can be very resourceful and strong. For instance, in February the U.K.'s University of Portsmouth found that limpets -- small, snail-like creatures living in water, with conical shells--have such hardy teeth that their construction methods could be models for making cars, boats and planes. That study was published in the Royal Society's journal, Interface

The naval shipworm, a bivalve mollusk that looks like a worm but has an abrasive shell, has a termite-like effect on the wood in shipwrecks (and all wooden ships before the 18th century), and was found in a November 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Energy to have a very unusual digestive strategy The study was published in PNAS.

If you'd like to read more about mollusks (or molluscs), British marine biologist Helen Scales' book Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells (Bloomsbury 2015) is rich with both great science and great tales of shell life and sea explorations. For instance, it notes that Asia's dramatic karst limestone towers formed from the remains of ancient sea creatures, including corals and shells. 

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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