Airdate: Mar 31, 2020
Scientist: Paul Boyle
Attack of The Gribbles
These tiny wood-boring crustaceans have plagued man-made structures since the days of Columbus.
Attack of The GribblesHere's a program from our archives. Ambience: gentle oceanHere's a new item to add to your list of things to worry about - Gribbles - and don't let the cute name fool you. Gribbles are a global problem. These tiny underwater crustaceans, also known as Limnoria tripunctata, devour anything made of wood -- including our ships and docks. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet. In the United States, gribbles cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage each year. Dr. Paul Boyle is deputy director of the New York Aquarium.Boyle: The Greeks had problems with them, they've been a problem all through history to ships and docks and piers and pilings. They even caused some of Columbus's vessels serious problems. He actually had to delay one of his returns to Europe because he lost several vessels. And a pier, in New York City fell into the water due largely to wood bore damage.Scientists are studying the behavior of gribbles in hoping to find new ways to protect the wood from this kind of biodeterioration. One question being asked is why the gribble keeps ON boring, even after it's made a home for itself?Boyle: They bore into the wood, as it's a place to live, although people have argued for a long time why they continue to bore once they form a burrow. You'd seem to think that they'd be protected once they've made that burrow, and so why do they continue to deteriorate the wood and, in fact, cause their home to fall apart in the end? Wood is not very nutritionally advantageous to eat, and it turns out that what they're really doing is increasing the surface area. And on that greatly increased surface area other microorganisms begin to grow, and the gribbles harvest those microorganisms as part of their nutrition. And that's really what they're after. They create this tremendous increase in surface area almost as a mechanism to enhance the growth of microorganisms which they then eat.Pulse of the Planet is presented by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.