ology logo
card
186

giant tubeworms

OLogy Series
animal
card
186

giant tubeworms

OLogy Series
animal

Some of Earth's oddest creatures live around
deep-sea hydrothermal (hot water) vents. These vents spew plumes of hot, mineral-rich water from cracks in the ocean floor. Life here must endure intense pressure, extreme heat, and harsh chemicals. One of the most exotic animals here is the giant tubeworm. Waving in the water, giant tubeworms grow in clusters around the vents.

The Deep Dark World of the Tubeworm
Miles below the ocean's surface is a mysterious world. The web of life that exists near the hydrothermal vents is different from every other one on Earth. Most food webs on Earth depend on plants, which get their energy from the Sun. But the thermal-vent food web is based on bacteria, which get their energy from the chemicals spewed by the vents. The main chemical near the vents is hydrogen sulfide. The giant tubeworm doesn't have a gut or mouth -- it relies on the bacteria living inside its body for nutrition. The tubeworm provides the bacteria with oxygen, carbon dioxide, and chemicals transported from the outside by its blood. In return, the bacteria provide the tubeworm with nutrients. Both the giant tubeworms and the bacteria play crucial roles in the food web. Other animals live on and around the tubes, feeding on the tubeworm's flesh or on the bacteria.

The tips of the giant tubeworm's plumes are red because:

they are red hot

they are filled with blood

this is where most of the reddish bacteria live

Are you right?

Correct!

The tips of the giant tubeworm's plumes are red because they are filled with blood. This is where the blood binds with hydrogen sulfide -- the main chemical in the vents -- and carries it to the bacteria living inside the tubeworm.

As adults, giant tubeworms can swim through the currents.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Tubeworm larvae, or tiny babies, can swim and be swept great distances, colonizing new vents hundreds of miles away.

Astronauts had walked on the Moon before anyone knew that giant tubeworms existed.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Hydrothermal vents and giant tubeworms were discovered in 1977, eight years after Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.

giant tubeworm
Scientific name: Riftia pachyptila
Size: over six feet tall
Habitat: hydrothermal vents in the deep sea
Diet: symbiotic bacteria provide nutrition
Characteristics: white tubes with some yellow from sulfide stains, and red-tipped plumes
Cool fact: the fastest-growing marine invertebrate; can grow more than 33 inches in a year

Image credits: courtesy of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.