Snark Week: The Gribble


GribblesWhat is the most fearsome animal in the ocean? Is it the great white shark? The deadly stingray? The Megalodon?

No. It is the Gribble.

A gribble is an adorably chubby wee crustacean about three to six millimeters long. It has seven pairs of legs and four pairs of appendages sprouting around its mouth. And it spends most of its life inside its burrow.

So why fear the gribble? Because it will single-handedly destroy boats, piers, and anything else made of wood. These roly-poly ocean-dwellers use their heavily-muscled mouthparts to gouge tunnels in timber, turning once-sturdy planks into spongy messes. People have called gribbles “extremely active marauders” and “diminutive scourges of the marine engineer”. One researcher, observing piles of gribblified oak, fir, and pine in Kingstown Harbor, Ireland, wrote in 1908 that the wood was “so much decayed as to be reduced in places from the original dimensions of 13 inches square to a mere shell of an inch in thickness.”

Wood attacked by gribbles.

In Seattle, where I live, gribbles have chewed up the wooden platform that supports the city’s seawall. If an earthquake or major storm hits, Elliott Bay will flood the streets of downtown. Rebuilding the seawall is going to cost the city about $300 million.

And gribbles are hardy little buggers. Once in their burrow, females “brace themselves so firmly… that it is practically impossible to extract them with a pair of forceps,” wrote researcher Jean Henderson of McGill University in 1924. Henderson noted that these sea creatures have survived being mailed from New Brunswick to Montreal in a bundle of newspaper, deprived of wood — their primary food source — for 12 days, and frozen to −2.5 degrees Celsius for five hours.

Not so cute now, am I?

So back off, Megalodon. The Gribble will rip you to shreds.


Image credits

First and third images: Dr. Simon Cragg and Graham Malyon, Institute of Marine Sciences, School of Biological Sciences, University of Portsmouth, UK

Second image: Katrin Besser


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7 thoughts on “Snark Week: The Gribble

  1. Four pairs of appendages sprouting around its mouth, heavily-muscled mouthparts, floods, destruction.
    Look, DC Comics, I don’t want to tell you how to do your jobs but “Gribble Man” is there for the plucking. Get on it!

  2. Of course, one never knows what one will learn in a day. Today it was about gribbles, the existence of which I was none the wiser this morning. What a wonderful world!

  3. Has anyone tried applying garlic to the wood?
    Of course evicting the critters might not be a wise move until someone finds out what sort of a new home they might select.

  4. I don’t know if anyone has tried garlic, but I think there are various anti-gribble materials you can use in boats/piers to keep them away.

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