Extreme Temperatures

Part of the Water: H2O = Life exhibition.

Cold or Hot, the Water's Fine

From the coldest ice fields of Antarctica to gaps in the ocean floor spewing water superheated by molten rock, life persists and even thrives. Extremely hot water, which would be deadly for most species, is just the right temperature for certain creatures. And in the places where water freezes, animals have evolved surprising ways of either keeping warm or coping with the cold.


Wood frogs are cold-blooded, so they can't keep warm in freezing temperatures. In winter, wood frogs make lots of the sugar glucose, which they pump to all parts of their bodies. The glucose acts like antifreeze, thus preventing the frog's cells from being pierced by tiny crystals of ice. The water between the cells does freeze, meaning the animal's entire body becomes solid, like a frog-shaped ice cube. When the weather warms up, the frog thaws out and hops away.

Soft, Boiled Worm

On the floor of the Pacific Ocean, plumes of superheated water burst out of cracks in Earth's crust. Clustered around these cracks, Pompeii worms withstand water temperatures as high as 80°C (176°F), hotter than any other animal. How do these creatures survive in water that's almost boiling? Some scientists suspect that colonies of bacteria, which grow like tiny hairs along the worm's body, may carry heat-resistant proteins that help protect the animal.

Emperor penguin huddle, Antarctica
© Doug Allan/Naturepl.com

Huddle Up

Imagine standing outside in the bitter cold for two solid months. How would you stay warm? In the pitch-dark winters of Antarctica, where emperor penguins lay their eggs on the ice, temperatures can plunge to -40°C (-40°F) with winds up to 200 kilometers (124 miles) an hour. A layer of blubber and a thick coat of feathers help penguins keep warm. But males must stand in the cold incubating an egg for about two months without a break. So thousands of these expectant fathers often huddle together for warmth, with the penguins on the outer edge of the group constantly trying to move toward the middle.