The ‘Unicorn Of Mollusks’ Is The World’s Rarest Treyf

If you are a Jew who either keeps kosher or feels vaguely guilty about not doing so, should you be worried that the world is running out of slimy sea creatures for you to sanctimoniously (and gratefully) refuse to eat? Not anymore: The world’s rarest treyf has been found.

It’s appetizingly known as the giant shipworm, although to excited marine microbiologists, it’s “the unicorn of mollusks.” (Those words came from Margo Haygood of the University of Utah, as quoted by The Washington Post.)

Over the years, the creature has gained near-mythical status: Scientists have studied its striking 3-foot-long tube-like shells, as well as the occasional dead specimen, for centuries without having ever seen a living giant shipworm, having never been able to figure out where they live. Also, you know, those lengthy shells look an awful lot like unicorn horns.

The living giant shipworm, or Kuphus polythalamia, was discovered by a television crew in the Phillipines, who created a brief documentary on a set of unusual mollusks growing in a local lagoon, unaware that they had stumbled on the key to a scientific mystery.

One of Haywood’s colleagues saw the clip, researchers set off to investigate, and one surely uncomfortable intercontinental journey in a piece of PVC pipe later, a giant shipworm found itself on a laboratory table. There, after being removed from its shell and marveled at for its gunmetal-black color — smaller varieties of shipworm have pale bodies, often pink or white — it was dissected.

So much, alas, for the living giant shipworm.

On the plus side, at least now we know where to find more. On a less-positive note, apparently they have sulfur-feeding bacteria living in their gills. Thank goodness we won’t be eating that anytime soon.


Talya Zax

Talya Zax

Talya Zax is the Forward’s deputy culture editor. Contact her at or on Twitter, @TalyaZax.

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The ‘Unicorn Of Mollusks’ Is The World’s Rarest Treyf

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