Ming the Clam: the 507-year-old clam that explained climate change3 min read
It wasn’t just any clam.
Ming the Clam was 507 years old.
For his whole life, he lived on the bottom of the Norwegian Sea and, while on earth the years passed, the world, inevitably, changed. Great empires rose and fell again into the dust, the Industrial Revolution transformed human society, and two world wars claimed millions of lives.
In 2006, a team of British scientists was engaged in a mission of assessment off the coast of Iceland, within a study to discover the effects of climate change.
Ming was collected with other specimens after they dredged the seabed.
Sadly, the scientists opened the clam, killing him.
Only later they discovered that Ming was 507 years old and potentially he was the oldest living animals on earth.
Ming The Clam was born in 1499, and this makes him still today the oldest non-colonial animal ever discovered.
In the year in which he was born, Leonardo da Vinci painted the Gioconda and the King of the Tudor Henry VII was sitting on the throne of England.
The clam was nicknamed Ming in the British media, as he was born during the rule of the Chinese Ming dynasty and, more specifically, he was born during the reign of the Hongzhi Emperor, who ruled the dynasty between 1487 and 1505.
In Iceland, he was named Hafrun, a female Icelandic name roughly translated as ‘mystery of the ocean’. The actual sex of the clam, however, remains unknown. He (or she) had been alive for so long it was impossible to determine.
Either way, his age was calculated by counting the annual growth rings on his shell.
And, ironically, the clam’s long life came to an end at the hands of the same scientists that were attempting to discover his age.
But Ming’s “untimely” death may not have been entirely in vain: scientists, analyzing the growth rings on his shell, could discover the secrets of the long life and understand the long-term effects of climate change near the Arctic.
Scientists could therefore find clues able to make us understand how and why some creatures are able to resist the negative effects of aging, and this could open the road to findings that will help people live longer.
Ming shell data also helped scientists understand the impact of climate change on marine life.
The clams, in fact, would be able to provide a particularly useful source of information about marine conditions, as each annual ring growth stores information about the environment and atmosphere in which they lived.
By examining each ring, scientists are able to reconstruct historical sea temperatures and climatic conditions.
Analysis of Ming, and the other clams in the sample, has demonstrated that changes to the world’s atmosphere since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution are driving changes in sea temperatures and currents. These important discoveries help us to better understand the effects of human-induced climate change.
Despite Ming the Clam is the oldest (non colonial) animal ever discovered, it’s highly likely that there are many more similar specimens under the sea, which may even be significantly older.
The sample taken by the British scientists in Iceland was extremely small, comprising only 200 clams. Ming was the oldest clam found in the sample, and thus it’s actually very likely that there are many more clams off the coast of Iceland, which may be even older.
Although Ming’s life was cut short prematurely, he’s an important reminder that the waters of sea and ocesan contain many mysteries yet to be discovered.
Images from web – Google Research