Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

Perhaps one of the most frustrating parts of science is inadvertantly destroying the thing which you study in the pursuit of knowledge. Its unfortunate, and sometimes unavoidable, as in the case of these marine biologists who hauled an ancient ocean quahog out of Icelandic waters.

The group from Bangor University in Wales was conducting a routine dredge for research purposes when they found a clam-like mollusk, brought up from 250 feet down. The researchers cut though its shell, only to determine that the oceanic quahog had been between 405-410 years old, making it the oldest animal known. Doh! The age was determined by counting the rings in the shell, similar to the age rings in trees.

“Its death is an unfortunate aspect of this work, but we hope to derive lots of information from it,” postdoctoral scientist Al Wanamaker told London’s Guardian newspaper. “For our work, it’s a bonus, but it wasn’t good for this particular animal.”


Also, these shells are not overly huge, as their age might suggest. Another ancient quahog, aged to 225 years was 5.5 inches long (Ropes 1985).


  1. #1 Mark Powell
    November 10, 2007

    Why worry about scientists when many more of these clams are killed to feed clam chowder lovers? That’s right, these clams are fished commercially and made into clam chowder. So if you love clam chowder, you may have eaten the oldest animal on earth

  2. #2 Shelley Batts
    November 10, 2007

    Excellent point, Mark. Do you know if the quahog is endangered/over-harvested? Their life cycle, and reaching reproducive age not until after 10-15 years, means it might be tough to sustainably harvest it.

  3. #3 Mark Powell
    November 10, 2007

    Shelley, Thanks for your interest. Probably not overharvested, certainly not endangered. Quahogs are not very valuable, so that helps a lot. Now bluefin tuna, that’s a fish of a different color. We’re approaching the point of no return for bluefin tuna, and some believe the last fish will be sold for a fabulous price–like the current record of $150,000 for a single bluefin tuna!

  4. #4 decrepitoldfool
    November 10, 2007

    So the Quahog has been building a durable shell in neat year bands for hundreds of years… can we collect information about sea chemistry from it?

  5. #5 Mark Powell
    November 11, 2007

    Funny you should ask, fool. Check out this reference:

  6. #6 Lab Lemming
    November 12, 2007

    I heard they did the same thing with trees a while back- someone cut down a bristlecone pine in the ruby range, counted the rings, and determined that had been older that the current recordholder from the White Mtns. Don’t have a reference, though.

  7. #7 Nathan Myers
    November 12, 2007

    But how did it taste?

    My mycologist friend says type specimens for edible mushrooms are invariably “overripe when picked”.

  8. #8 DSKS
    November 15, 2007

    I’m not sure it’s really time for a panic attack. It’s only the oldest one that they’ve found. For all they know, it’s but a mere toddler compared to some of the one’s they haven’t found. Hell, maybe the older ones get smart and hide.

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