On the Air: September 21, 2014
Shackelton's crew in a lifeboat. Credit: Library of Congress

In May of 1916, three wretched men appeared at a whaling camp on South Georgia, a remote island in the South Atlantic. Exhausted, hungry, and frostbitten, the men had long since been given up for dead.

In Print: September 1, 2014
Left: a boneworm on a fish bone. Credit: Greg Rouse. Right: shipworms burrowed into a piece of wood. Credit: Christina Bienhold, MPI for Marine Microbiology.

For almost any object in the sea, there’s a creature who will feed on it – even if it’s a whale skeleton or a shipwreck. Though not related to one another, boneworms and shipworms share the remarkable ability to locate their meals in the vast ocean. Boneworms consume the bones of mammals, fish, reptiles and other animals, while shipworms – actually a type of mollusk – use their tiny shells to burrow into the wood of wrecked ships, trees adrift, or other wooden structures in the sea. Despite having neither stomachs nor mouths, both boneworms and shipworms have symbiotic bacteria in their gut that release nutrients from the bones or wood which these “worms” absorb as food.