Gribbles are better than tribbles

Who would have thought that a small isopod could be so chibi-cute, have a fun name, and be potentially useful?

Pair of teeny 2mm pale-peach isopods with 7 pairs of legs (Simon Cragg/Graham Malyon/Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Portsmouth)

The gribble (Limnoria quadripunctata) is an aquatic relative of the woodlouse (pillbug), that eats tunnels along the surfaces of wooden objects, such as driftwood, boats, or piers.  This latter habit makes the gribble generally unwanted. However, recent news describes how scientists at the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Portsmouth and the University of York have been examining the guts of these wee creatures to identify digestive enzymes.

When termites eat wood, they don’t really digest the wood theselves; they have bacteria in their guts that break down the cellulose into smaller molecules. But gribbles are able to digest wood directly. If the enzymes can be easily produced, then the gribbles would be an inspiration for the biofuel industry, because any kind of material could be used, even insoluble stuff such as straw or willow.

Bugs to the rescue, again. Once more, they did it first!


  1. Charles Windar said,

    9 August 2010 at 19:20

    Yes, as a zoologist I love bugs too! Got an ‘A’ in entomology in [secular] graduate school – but I don’t believe the arthropods evolved from a non-arthropod ancestor. Science shows arthropods have always been arthropods: *As Darwin noted in the Origin of Species, the abrupt emergence of arthropods in the fossil record during the Cambrian presents a problem for evolutionary biology. There are no obvious simpler or intermediate forms – either living or in the fossil record – that show convincingly how modern arthropods evolved from worm-like ancestors. Consequently there has been a wealth of speculation and contention about relationships between the arthropod lineages.* – Osorio, Daniel, Jonathan P. Bacon, and Paul M. Whitington. 1997. The evolution of arthropod nervous systems. American Scientist, May-June. 244-253.

  2. Amber B said,

    15 March 2010 at 4:41

    Reminds me of Poke-Mon. :)

  3. fridawrites said,

    14 March 2010 at 5:25

    They look almost shrimpy–kind of like sea monkeys.

  4. Rose said,

    11 March 2010 at 14:35

    Funny, an odd number of legs.
    The one on the right is so cute and appears to be smiling!!!!
    I am so glad to see nature serves as a possible answer to man’s problems.

    • andrea said,

      12 March 2010 at 2:57

      Yes, gribbles and other isopods aren’t really insects, which have just 3 pairs of legs. In this case, I’m using the word “bug” very loosely…

  5. fridawrites said,

    11 March 2010 at 14:00

    Very cool–I love learning more about bugs on your blog.

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