A "wandering meatloaf" mollusk may be in the same family as clams and snails, but watch out for the teeth, as new research reveals they contain rare iron.
Researchers from Northwestern University discovered the phosphate mineral santabarbaraite in the teeth of the world's largest chiton species, commonly known as the "wandering meatloaf" because of its reddish-brown appearance.
"It was very surprising and we didn't expect to find it," the study's senior author, Derk Joster, told USA TODAY. "It was more or less an accident."
The mineral is believed to toughen the teeth of the sometimes 14-inch chiton without adding extra weight, because of its high water content and low density, Joster said.
Chiton teeth are more than three times harder than human teeth and one of the hardest materials known to nature. They are attached to a soft, flexible, tonguelike radula, which scrapes over rocks to collect algae and other food, according to Northwestern University.
Researchers found santabarbaraite throughout the chiton’s upper stylus, which is similar to the root of a human tooth.
The finding will help researchers uncover how the chiton uses its teeth to chew on rocks, and a peer-reviewed study will be published in journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Wandering meatloaf' mollusk has rare iron mineral teeth, study says