Dr. Craig Cary
Size: Up to 9 feet (3 m) long.
Range: In Pacific Ocean from Baja to Galápagos Islands, over a mile deep on the seafloor.
Resembling giant lipsticks, tubeworms (Riftia pachyptila) live over a mile deep in the Pacific Ocean near geysers on the seafloor called hydrothermal vents. These vents continuously spew super-hot, mineral-rich water that helps support a diverse community of organisms. Although most of the deep sea is sparsely populated, vent sites teem with a fascinating array of life. Tubeworms and huge clams are the most distinctive inhabitants of the Pacific Ocean, while eyeless shrimp are found only at vents in the Atlantic Ocean.
Tubeworms may grow to about 9 feet (3 meters) long. They have no mouth, eyes, or stomach. Their survival depends on a symbiotic relationship with the billions of bacteria that live inside of them. These bacteria convert the chemicals that shoot out of the hydrothermal vents into food for the worm.
Since a tubeworm has no mouth, how do bacteria get inside the worm? Scientists have found that, during its earliest stages, the tubeworm does have a mouth and gut for bacteria to enter. But as the worm grows, these features disappear!
Sometimes tubeworms provide food for other deep-sea dwellers. Fish and crabs may nibble off the tubeworm's red plume.
For more information, photos, and video clips of tubeworms and other deep-sea life, dive in to our on-line expedition Extreme 2000: Voyage to the Deep!