World's oldest animal killed by scientists

The 500-year-old clam was killed when researchers opened it to further study it.
By Ananth Baliga  |  Nov. 14, 2013 at 9:14 AM
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Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Scientists at Bangor University in North Wales have inadvertently killed Ming the Mollusc, which it turns out was the world's oldest living animal.

The ocean quahog -- a type of deep sea clam -- was found in Iceland in 2006 and found to be 405 years old. However while taking a closer look at it, researchers found that it may be a hundred years older, pegging it's age at 507 years old. But this process, opening its shell to put it under scrutiny, led to the death of the mollusc.

“We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now,” said Dr. Paul Butler, an ocean scientist at the university.

This means that the mollusc was born in 1499 -- a time when the Ming dynasty was flourishing, seven years after Columbus reached America and a decade before Henry VIII became King of England.

The quahog's shell grows every year, producing visible rings for each growth spurt, much like a tree. These can be found near the hinge of the clam and on the outer shell. It is generally agreed that the hinge is the best place to estimate the age of a mollusc, as it is shielded from external forces.

Based on the rings on the quahog's hinge researchers estimated it's age to be 405 years but on taking a look at the outer shell they revised their calculations, dating it at 507 years old.

“This is important to our understanding of how much changes in the oceans affect the climate on land," said Rob Witbaard of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, to ScienceNordic. "And the really amazing thing is that the pattern in the ocean quahog’s growth rings actually recurs in tree rings."

[The Telegraph] [ScienceNordic]

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