Scientists in North Wales were already aware that they had experienced a major “Oops!” moment when they killed a deep-sea clam they had found in 2006 off Iceland, with the intent of studying the creature.
The study determined that the clam was an astonishing 405 years old, making it the world’s oldest known animal. Had the scientists been aware of its potential age, they surely would have kept the critter alive.
But further study has revealed that Ming the Mollusk, as the clam has been named (after the Chinese dynasty that was in power at the time of the its birth) was actually more than 100 years older than previously believed.
The ocean quahog, or clam, was actually 507 years old when it was plucked from its North Atlantic home and placed into a freezer. Date of birth: 1499, seven years after Christopher Columbus arrived in America and a decade before Henry VIII took the throne in England.
“We got it wrong the first time, and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then,” Dr. Paul Butler, an ocean scientist at Bangor, told the publication ScienceNordic. “But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now.”
A clam’s age can be determined by annual growth rings found near the hinge and on its outer shell. It wasn’t until recently, while placing Ming’s outer shell under intense scrutiny, that scientists determined its correct age.
That age was determined after a consensus of leading mollusk researchers, and it surprised them because this particular mollusk, Arctica islandica, was not believed to live beyond 100 years.
“The fact alone that we got our hands on an animal that’s 507 years old is incredibly fascinating, but the really exciting thing is of course everything we can learn from studying the mollusk,” said Jan Heinemeier, who helped with the new dating of Ming.
The pattern in Ming’s growth rings might also provide insight into past climate conditions.
Perhaps a more intriguing study would involve determining Ming’s secret for longevity.
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