UA Museums’ Collections Spotlight: Giant worm-mollusc

  • February 6th, 2017
The giant worm-shaped mollusc feeds by sucking off the tentacles of sea anemones.

Perhaps one of the most unusual specimens collected in recent memory is a giant worm-shaped mollusc (Mollusca, Aplacophora, Solenogastres), which was dredged from the Ross Sea in Antarctica. This unusual creature feeds by sucking off the tentacles of sea anemones. What makes this group particularly interesting is that analysis of its DNA has shown this little-studied group, along with a group of armored slug-like molluscs called chitons, form the sister group to all other molluscs (e.g., snails, clams, squid, etc.).

Aplacophorans are covered by microscopic spines, which are made out of the same material as, for example, oyster shells. Currently, Dr. Kevin Kocot, assistant professor in UA’s biological sciences department and Alabama Museum of Natural History’s curator of invertebrate zoology, and his students are studying how this ancient mollusc secretes its spines using genomic approaches, which should shed light onto the process of skeleton formation in general.

The Marine Invertebrate Collection consists of more than 16,000 lots, the vast majority of which are crustaceans, followed by the molluscs. Most of this collection is housed in bottles of ethanol. The collection is housed in the Mary Harmon Bryant Collections Facility.

Kevin Kocot, assistant professor in the biological sciences department and curator of invertebrate zoology in The Alabama Museum of Natural History, provided the above information.

The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.