The Wood-Boring Shipworm: The Remarkable Mudflat Creature with Surprising Benefits

The Wood-Boring Shipworm:  The Remarkable Mudflat Creature with Surprising Benefits

When we come across rotting wood, most of us might dismiss it as useless debris. However, this is not the case for the wood-boring shipworm (Bactronophorus thoracites). Despite its worm-like appearance, this species is, in fact, a type of bivalve mollusk, closely related to the clam family.

The wood-boring shipworm boasts a larger body size, measuring around 30 cm in length, compared to earthworms. Its body is white and features a peculiar mouthpart called a palette. The palette's function is to seal its dwelling hole when it feels threatened.

Wood-boring shipworm inhabit the brackish waters of the Western Indo-Pacific. They rely on the presence of mangrove trees as a source of sustenance. As their name suggests, wood-boring shipworms utilize decaying mangrove wood as their habitat. This behavior plays a crucial role in the decomposition of organic matter, making them key decomposers in the macrofauna group.

Although rarely found in urban areas, wood-boring shipworms are a delicacy in Southeast Asian cultures. People who enjoy them typically hunt for them by searching for and breaking apart decaying mangrove wood. Once collected, these pieces of wood are split open to reveal the hollowed interiors where wood-boring shipworms reside.

Commonly known as tamilok, it is known as a renowned delicacy in Palawan and Aklan, Philippines. In the Kalimantan region of Indonesia, the Dayak community often consumes this creature raw, locally known as tembiluk. Additionally, the practice of consuming tamilok is prevalent among the Kamoro tribe in Indonesia's West Papua and Southeast Sulawesi, also Thailand's Ko Phra Thong. In Kamoro culture, wood-boring shipworms serve as the primary dish during various cultural festivities, such as the Karapao cultural festival.

A Kamoro tribe man is eating tambelo. Source: detikTravel/Fitraya

Despite appearing unappetizing to some, wood-boring shipworms are known for their high protein content, offering benefits for tissue repair and maintenance. In Papua's culture, they are believed to have curative properties, addressing ailments such as back pain, coughs, rheumatism, flu, malaria, enhancing lactation, appetite, and male virility.

In Southeast Sulawesi, Politeknik Kesehatan Kota Kendari has innovatively developed dried wood-boring shipworm snacks, similar to crackers, to combat malaria. Wiralis, a lecturer at Politeknik Kesehatan Kota Kendari, revealed that in vitro analysis has shown that wood-boring shipworms are a functional food source that can be harnessed in malaria-endemic areas. This is due to the discovery of alkaloids in them that inhibit the growth of Plasmodium aconoidasida, the malaria-causing parasite.

Rafa Sukoco

An Indonesian born into a multiethnic family. Loves traveling, culinary, and learning about history and religion. Listening and channeling stories is my way of enjoying life.
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