Earths Hottest Animal
University of Delaware marine scientist Craig Cary recently
discovered that an inhabitant of the deep sea is the most
heat-tolerant animal on Earth. The Pompeii worm (Alvinella
pompejana) can survive an environment as hot as 80°
C (176° F) nearly hot enough to boil water. How
the worm survives this heat remains a mystery.
Formerly, the Sahara desert ant was believed to be the most
heat-hardy creature, foraging briefly in the desert sun at
temperatures up to 55° C (131° F).
Carys research was conducted onboard the deep-sea submersible
Alvin at hydrothermal vent sites in the Pacific Ocean
west of Costa Rica. Using a long temperature probe called
the Mosquito, he found that the worms rear
end sits in water as hot as 80° C (176° F), while
its head, which sticks out of the worms tube home, rests
in water that is much cooler, about 22° C (72° F).
the Pompeii worms back is a fleece of bacteria that
can also take the heat. 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 extremophiles organisms that
thrive in extreme temperature and pressure conditions
scientists may open the door to beneficial new products and
Photo right: If you look closely at the lower right-hand
quadrant of this photo, you can see a Pompeii worm extending
its dark-red feathery head and paler body from its tube home.
The worm is about 13 centimeters (5 in) long.