I’ll admit it: I am fascinated by holes.
Black holes, gopher holes, wormholes, manholes, you name it. Holes, to me, represent an entrance to another realm, usually a mysterious one. When I am out hiking, and I see a hole, I like to examine it thoroughly. How big is it? Are there any tracks around it? Is it a front entrance? A back entrance? What is living in there?
Of course, what’s living in there may not be what made the hole. (Remember the gopher tortoise?) A woodpecker hole may house a sawwhet owl, and a rabbit warren may provide refuge for a rattlesnake. Now, it’s one thing to tunnel through wood or dirt. But in the ocean, there are animals that drill into solid rock.
This is the American Piddock, a member of the pholidae family of molluscs. They’re also called angelwings, pholad clams, rock-boring clams, or simply boring clams. The last one seems a little mean; their conversational skills aside, they’re actually quite interesting. The rough edge you see on the left is used to tunnel into shale or limestone; they are living drillbits.
Drill Baby Drill
Piddocks will rotate their auger-shaped bodies into rock at a rate of 4 or 5 centimeters per year. Most species of piddock stop when they’ve burrowed the length of their bodies, but many of them will drill themselves several body-lengths deep (up to a foot) over the course of their lives, sending up a siphon to suck down their planktonic prey. Now, a few other sea creatures, like sea urchins and sponges, can “eat” holes in rock. The difference is that piddocks, once they’ve lodged themselves in the rock, will never leave – they literally dig their own graves. And once they’re dead, they bequeath their hidey-holes to all sorts of crabs, anemones, shrimp, and worms. The piddock wills a more multifaceted ecosystem to its heirs by literally cutting facets into the rock face.
I have a theory I call “Fractal Earth,” in which life creates infinite niches – not just ecological niches, but actual niches, digging into 3-dimensional Earth to create ever more complex fractures in its surface. When Life becomes full to the brim at the surface, it will dig deeper to make more room. Even through rock. Even with a flimsy shell made of hardened chalk, and even if it takes a decade. Life is one big fucking jailbreak.
From an artistic perspective? Let me introduce you to my new favorite thing: The Zymoglyphic Museum in San Mateo, CA, an 8’x12′ shed in some guy’s driveway dedicated to “The collection and arrangement of objects, primarily either natural or weathered by natural forces, for poetic effect.” Most of it is a collection of collages created by this Bay Area artist out of found objects: old toys, driftwood, and curios. But he also features “artwork” by non-human creatures, including these familiar-looking masterpieces by an animal you recently met:
Tomorrow: More zymoglyphic masterpieces, and fractals in Nature!