How the Ming Dynasty was killed off


Have you ever eaten a clam? A little clam chowder, maybe? Fried clams? Baked, breaded or steamed clams? Clams on the half shell? Clams Casino? Progresso soup with those little chopped-up pieces of clams in it?

If you have, you’ve probably eaten a quahog. There are lots of them. There are towns named after them because empires were once founded on the quahog.

A few years ago, an ocean quahog was minding its own business on the seabed under the freezing waters of the north Atlantic near the Icelandic coast when some scientists happened along and scooped it up. These experts immediately recognized that they had found a particularly elderly clam. It’s relatively easy to tell how old a quahog is, because like trees, they add a ring every year. Most of the clams baked or steamed are youngsters of, oh, say, 20 or 30 years old. Eating a 50-year-old is commonplace. For all I know, half the clams being washed down with margaritas might be 200 years old. 

But this three-and-a-half-inch clam was old. Really old. The initial count put him at 402 years of age. For this it was named Ming, after the dynasty in power in China at the time of Ming’s birth. Ming was not only the oldest clam ever recorded, it was the oldest animal ever known to have lived.

The findings were tentative, though. The scientists did not trust their initial readings. A definitive ring count, they believed, could only be accomplished by counting the better-preserved rings near the hinge ligament on Ming’s inside. This meant opening Ming up.

Opening Ming achieved two results. The first was the death of Ming. The second was that the scientists learned that the question of the interior ring count was more challenging than expected. The view of the rings was obscured in there. They couldn’t make it out. The inscrutable Ming seemed to be taking the secret of his age to the grave. 

Then the scientists found that the answer was right there on Ming’s exterior. They had killed this 507-year-old clam for nothing. They could have just counted those rings more carefully in the first place. Ming would have continued to operate. As happy as a clam.

No one knows how much longer Ming might have lived. It could have been another year or another century. It could have been until the oceans dried up.

I don’t know what this means. I came across this while writing something about how Roo is aging. The difference is that even though she is the greatest boon to the scientific economy of east Oklahoma, in veterinary terms, she’s in far safer hands than Ming was.