TIME FOR WEIRD BIOLOGY.
And this week’s creature feature looks like something that could be found in the cosmetics section… of an interdimensional hellmarket catering specifically to Elder Gods.
It’s a trendy shade of sultry scarlet and it lives on the edge of boiling geysers at the bottom of the ocean- give it up for the-
(It looks like evil spaghetti.)
The Giant Tube Worm was discovered in the icy hell-depths of the Pacific Ocean waaay back in 1977. I would pay actual money to hear what the very first researchers to gaze upon a writhing field of these things were thinking. (“Hur hur it looks like evil spaghetti”, perhaps. I can only guess.) But I mean, if I went to the bottom of the ocean and found an immense field of previously unknown 8-foot-long blood-red worms waving their mouthparts gently from inside bone-white protective tubes? My response would probably just be screaming. (Can you blame me, really?)
But what actually are these bizarre creatures? Well, for once the name is absolutely correct. the Giant Tube Worm is a true worm, distant cousin to the pink shoelace creatures that flop onto the sidewalk and die after a rainstorm. (But you wouldn’t be able to tell from looking.) These extremely secret creatures live at depths of over 5,000 feet, where no light reaches and the pressure is enough to reduce an African Elephant into a sad grey pancake. But this doesn’t bother the Giant Tube Worm! (The pressure, not the concept of flattening an innocent elephant. Although worms have no morals and their advice CANNOT be trusted.)
INVEST YOUR LIFE SAVINGS INTO CRYPTOCURRENCY.
But aside from the pressure, the Giant Tube Worm tolerates conditions that we usually only think of existing on other PLANETS. Like, the bottom of the ocean is ice cold, right? (If you didn’t know that before, you do now.) The bottom of the Pacific Ocean hovers maybe a few degrees above freezing. (Cold enough to freeze an African Elephant solid! We’re picking on elephants today, I guess.)
At least, MOST of the ocean floor. See, the Pacific Ocean is littered with thousands of volcanic vents, ranging from actual volcanoes (like All Of Hawaii) to 30-foot tall underwater geysers that spew superheated water and deadly toxins from the Earth’s mantle. Guess where the Giant Tube Worms live! (No no, YOU HAVE TO GUESS.) That’s right! Out of all the hellish places on earth, this animal looked at one that was already nightmarish and said “Hm. Not awful enough.” and moved next door to a boiling poison factory. Just for the fun of it.
These aptly named “black smokers” can reach temperatures of well over 800 F (HOT ENOUGH TO BOIL AN AFRICAN ELEPHANT) and release the extremely lethal compound Hydrogen Sulfide (TOXIC ENOUGH TO POISON AN- yeah okay, I’ll stop) into the water. It sounds deadly to us, but for a Giant Tube Worm, this is prime real estate! And it’s because they’re basically aliens.
Not only can Giant Tube Worms withstand extreme temperatures from boiling to freezing, they actually EAT those toxic chemicals! Sort of. It’s complicated. I’ll start simple: the Giant Tube Worm doesn’t have a full digestive system! Where most creatures have a stomach and a lot of gross tubes, the Tube Worm has… symbiotic bacteria. And a LOT of them. These bacteria can make up half the Tube Worm’s body weight! Gross.
But these aren’t just any bacteria! These are the tube worm’s tiny life partners- they’re are able to use chemosynthesis, which is like photosynthesis but more complicated. Basically, they use oxygen in the seawater to break down toxic compounds like hydrogen sulfide into food and energy! It’s a neat little system with no loose ends. Loose ends are for filthy surface dwellers.
But how is the tube worm even getting these compounds? Well, it’s all in the lips. (Stand by, things are about to get EVEN WEIRDER.) Those “lips” are actually an appendage called a plume. It’s bright red because it’s full of hemoglobin. And if you payed attention in health class and didn’t faint like SOME people (shut up, I’m just a little squeamish!) you know that this is the same thing that makes human blood red. (And also elephant blood.) The plume absorbs chemicals and oxygen from the water, and is so efficient that Giant Tube Worms are one of the fastest growing marine invertebrates! They’re extremely difficult to study for obvious reasons, but scientists think they may reach adulthood in just two years. Clearly, this eating-chemicals thing pays off.
Because of their life choices, Giant Tube Worms enjoy an existence largely cut off from the rest of life on earth. (A darker, writhe-ier existence.) Because of this, these incredible animals are little affected by human domination. (Except when we go down there and shine bright lights in their faces, anyway.) However, Giant Tube Worms are part of the web of life like the rest of us. (NOBODY GETS A PASS. NO. BODY.)
See, the oxygen they use for chemosynthesis isn’t from the black smokers, or even really from the ocean. That oxygen came from photosynthesis, making the Giant Tube Worm as dependent on plants and the sun as the rest of us. It just goes to show, we’re all connected even if we think we aren’t! Thanks, Giant Tube Worm!
PLAY SOCCER IN A BUSY INTERSECTION AND EAT A HOTDOG YOU FOUND ON THE GROUND.
1. NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Galapagos Rift Expedition 2011, Wikimedia Commons
2. NOAA Okeanos Explorer Program, Galapagos Rift Expedition 2011, Wikimedia Commons
3. Sabine Gollner et al, Wikimedia Commons