The Angels That Eat Rocks

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:

In so many ways, holes are entrances to mysterious realms. In particular, the aesthetic mind.

Tomorrow: More zymoglyphic masterpieces, and fractals in Nature!

About quantumbiologist

Christian Drake, AKA The Quantum Biologist, is a naturalist and poet formerly of Albuquerque, NM and currently living deep in the backwoods of the Connecticut Berkshires. He has worked in aquariums and planetariums, national parks and urban forests. When not birding or turning over rocks to find weird bugs, he enjoys rockabilly music, gourmet cooking, playing harmonica and writing dirty haiku. View all posts by quantumbiologist

2 responses to “The Angels That Eat Rocks

  • Phyllis Klarmann

    The answer to any science question you can’t answer: “Surface area!”

    Also, I was snorkeling and found a hole with halved oyster shells around its mouth, and when I peered inside, I found a wee lobster.

    I found another hole between a few bushes, shaded by some ferns, next to a sea wall, but couldn’t find its inhabitant.

  • Georgia Santa Maria

    Love your site, Christian–too much fun! I’m with you on the honey badger, or any other kind of badger for that matter. They are fierce. Thanks, G.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: