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A clam presumed extinct for 40,000 years has been found alive

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A species of clam is back from the dead.

Known as Cymatioa cooki, the clam had only ever been found as a fossil, and scientists presumed that the species had been extinct for more than 40,000 years. Then, while scouring tide pools for sea slugs off the coast of California in 2018, marine ecologist Jeff Goddard spotted something unfamiliar: a white, translucent bivalve roughly 11 millimeters in length.

Not wanting to disrupt the clam, Goddard, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, photographed it and shared the images with a colleague. Paul Valentich-Scott, curator of malacology at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, didn’t recognize the marine critter either, which made him happy. “New discoveries are part of why we’re in science,” Valentich-Scott says.

A Cymatioa cooki clam sits next to a chiton
A Cymatioa cooki clam (arrow) sits next to a chiton at Naples Point, Calif. The minuscule clam is only about 11 millimeters in length.J. Goddard

The pair finally captured a live specimen in 2019 and brought it back to the museum to compare with known species from the fossil record….

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