Pompeii Worms

Deep Sea Pompeii

In 1998, University of Delaware Marine Biologist Craig Cary and his colleagues made national headlines when they discovered that hydrothermal vents harbor the most heat-tolerant animal on Earth. While some bacteria can live at even higher temperatures, Dr. Cary says the Pompeii worm ranks as the most heat-tolerant among higher-order life forms. It beat out the Sahara desert ant, which formerly held the record at 131F.How the Pompeii worm survives the nearly boiling water emanating from the vents is a mystery!

Pompeii Worm

Appearance-The Pompeii worm ,Alvinella pompejana, is a fuzzy gray, critter about as long as a hand, sporting tentacle-like, and has scarlet gills on its head .The Pompeii worm breathes through the red tentacle like gills that cover its head.

Specialty- The earth's Hottest Animal-The worm's rear end sits in water as hot as 176F, while its gill-covered head, which often pokes out of the worm's tube home, as shown in the picture, rests in much cooler water, only about 72F. The worm also displays a remarkably broad temperature gradient along its hairy body. It can survive a bath as hot as 176F!

Pompeii Worm's Home

Home- The Pompeii worm makes paper-like tube colonies attached to hydrothermal vent chimneys. While the very hottest water shoots out the top of the chimneys, these structures are so porous that hot water also seeps out the chimney sides and through the worm's tube home.

Application-Covering the Pompeii worm's back is a fleece of bacteria that can also take the heat. Tiny glands in the worm's skin secrete a mucous that the bacteria appear to live and feed on .These bacteria are of particular interest to industry because they may harbor enzymes that are useful in such high-temperature applications as processing food and drugs, making paper, and dislodging oil inside wells. By learning more about the unique biology of the Pompeii worm and other organisms that thrive in extreme temperature and pressure conditions, scientists may open the door to beneficial new products and processes.