The Extreme Hydrothermal Vent Worm

​The giant hydrothermal vent tubeworms aren’t called “extremophiles” (they live in extreme environments) for no reason. Colonies of these tubeworms live on hydrothermal vents spewing hot, mineral-rich water that, in some places, can reach an astounding 350 degrees Celsius (660 degrees Fahrenheit).

Not only do these worms live where few other organisms dare go, they have a unique body plan and way of life. The worms  have no digestive tract, mouth or anus. Instead of feeding like most other animals, these worms depend on symbiotic bacteria inside them that convert the hydrogen sulfide, carbonates or hydrocarbons (depending on the mineral content of the water) from the vent water into organic compounds for energy . It’s like how plants convert the sun’s energy to nutrition only it’s chemically based, called chemosynthesis.

This video explains the discovery of the vent worms and explains how they survive.

The giant tubeworms are polychaete annelids that reproduce and have a life-cycle like other polychaetes with free-swimming larvae. Currents transport the planktonic larvae until they reach active hydrothermal vents sites. Once they’ve reached a hydrothermal vent site, the larvae settle, acquire the symbiotic bacteria and grow quickly to a large size. Some hydrothermal vent worms can grow to over six feet tall. How vent sites are colonized and communities form is an area of active research.


Deep-sea expedition  photos and video

Read about the bacteria inside the worms

From MBARI on colonization