Essay

Man Finds 214-Year-Old Animal Living on Florida Beach

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On February 18, 2023, a man walking his family on a beach in Florida made a startling discovery. That he is a 214 year old animal. Blaine Parker discovered a giant marine quahog (Arctica islandica), commonly known as a clam. Other names for this creature include ‘mahogany quahog’ and ‘black shell’.

The Quahog

Ocean quahogs are filter-feeding mussels that live on sandy seabeds. Filter organic matter from water with the help of a siphon. The siphon is often the only visible part of the animal. The rest are usually buried under the sand on the seabed. Quahog is a classic shellfish used in clam chowder, as well as a variety of soups, stews, and seafood dishes.

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Because the U.S. Quahog fishery is managed and sustainable, this clam is considered suitable for cooking. This fishery operates in her two regions of Maine and Long Island, New York. The quahog’s entire native range extends from Newfoundland to North Carolina, far north of where Parker discovered the giant marine quahog in Florida. How did this mollusk get so far south? It probably has something to do with his age.

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“Abra-Clam Lincoln”

A typical ocean quahog is 5-10 cm long. The Quahog Parker, found at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, was over six inches in diameter and weighed over two pounds. Ocean quahogs are very slow growing animals, but they live very long lives. Age is determined by the number of shell layers. Quahog typically adds one shift per year.

The quahog shell that Parker discovered has 214 layers, which means the shell has been alive since 1809, the same year that Abraham Lincoln was born. It didn’t take long for the shell to earn the nickname “Abra Shell Lincoln”.

The Long Life of a Quahog

So how did a 214-year-old bivalve be found in Florida, with typical habitats ranging from Canada to North Carolina? Mussels are free-floating in their egg and larval stages and can swim anywhere with currents. When quahogs are fully grown, they crawl along the ocean floor.

The 214-year-old ‘Abraham Lincoln’ is thought to have slowly and systematically moved south over the past two centuries. The quahog is one of the longest-lived animals on Earth and the oldest non-colonial animal on Earth. Mr. Parker’s discovery is amazing, but it’s not the oldest marine quahog ever.

That honor goes to a quahog nicknamed “Ming” that was discovered off the coast of Iceland in 2006. Its armor reaches 507 layers! Conch shells have been around since 1499, when the Ming Dynasty ruled, hence the nickname.

A quahog’s shell is used to determine the age of an animal, but that’s not all. Like tree rings, quahog shell layers help biologists understand what marine environments were like in the past. These will reveal information such as water salinity and seawater temperature over the life of an animal. 214-year-old “Abraham Lincoln” has a lot to say. Ocean explorers are definitely listening.