The Pompeii worm is an extremophile

The Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) makes its home at the top of hydrothermal vent “chimneys,” where superheated water belches from within the Earth’s crust, delivering a rain of mineral “ash.” The base of these dwellings can experience extreme temperatures up to 105 degrees Celsius (221 degrees Fahrenheit), and the inside of the tube isn’t much cooler either. To survive these scalding temperatures, the woolly worm scuttles back and forth between the hot water rich in nutrients and the cool water rich in oxygen—movement that also mixes cool water into the worm’s tube. But more importantly, a fleece-like layer of bacteria helps insulate these worms from the extreme temperatures and redistributes the heat to keep the animals cool. The bacteria not only help regulate the temperature of the worm but also break down minerals from the vent to aid their host.

Pompeii worms are enigmatic animals that are only found on the surface of active hydrothermal chimneys. Their name refers to the ancient Roman city of Pompeii that was destroyed by ash raining down from an eruption of the large volcano Mount Vesuvius just miles away. Instead of being devastated by volcano-like conditions, these worms thrive in the scalding hot, mineral-rich waters at deep-sea vents.

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