teredo Archives - West Wind Hardwood
Saboteurs of the Sea

Saboteurs of the Sea

Ship’s sunk in battle, docks wrecked by aerial bombs, or vessels lost in storms – all these are visible, audible and entirely understandable forms of destruction.  But ever since man launched his first primitive wooden craft, there has been an equally destructive force at work – unseen, silent and often unsuspected.

Teredo navalis, commonly called the naval shipworm or turu is a species of saltwater clam.  Latin: teredo = woodworm or borer; navis = ship.  A marine bivalvemollusc in the family Teredinidae of the genus Teredo. Like other species in this family, this bivalve is called a shipworm, because it resembles a worm in general appearance, while at the anterior end it has a small shell with two valves that is adept at boring through the wood.  These shipworms, also called by mariners as the ‘termites of the sea, were native to the Caribbean Sea but have managed to ‘eat’ their way around the world. Though the Teredo serves an ecological value in degrading timber that falls to the ocean, it has also caused considerable damage to wooden boats even since man first ventured out to sea.  

“Some primal shipworm found some wood,
And tasted it and found it good.
That is why your cousin May
Fell with the dock in the sea today!”

Good Intentions by Ogden Nash, Little, Brown and Company ©1942

These boring clams weakened unprotected wooden hulls of ships to the point that they break apart in the open sea without any warning.  The Greeks and the Phoenicians certainly knew about them since 3,000 BC, lathering the hulls of their ships with wax and tar to keep them away.  The Romans used combinations of lead, tar and pitch to cover their boats.

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