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Vent Worms Like It Hot

Some worms that live on deep-sea vents can stand temperatures that most other animals on Earth won't tolerate. Now, scientists have tested these worms in the lab to find out exactly how hot the worms like it to be. It turns out that the worms prefer water at temperatures near the upper limit of what animals are known to survive. These tiny worms, called Paralvinella sulfincola, construct tubes as places to live. These tubes, which look a bit like miniature tree trunks lying on their side, sit directly on the hotter zones of underwater, chimney-like crags, where material from inside Earth spews out. Poking their feathery, orange gills out of the tubes, the sulfide worms look like tipped-over palm trees. Using submersibles with robotic arms, researchers collected some of the worms from 2,200 meters (7,200 feet) deep in the northeastern Pacific. In the lab, the scientists put the worms into an aquarium adjusted to copy the high-pressure environment to which the worms are accustomed. There, the creatures were free to move around as much as they wanted. To test temperature preferences, the researchers heated the aquarium unevenly. One end was 20C (68F), which is close to room temperature. The other end was a sweltering 61C (142F). At sea level, water boils at 100C (212F). The scientists kept track of where the creatures liked to hang out most. Some of the worms spent 7 hours in an area that was 50C (122F). One worm crawled into an area that was 55C (131F) and stayed for 15 minutes before moving away. That's seriously hot. Even though deep-sea vents are famous for how hot they are, few vent creatures can survive the hottest spots. In a similar experiment, for example, a type of vent shrimp died in the lab at temperatures around 43C (109F). P. sulfincola, it seems, is an exceptional species that provides a new window into the mysterious world of deep-sea vents.E. Sohn

Vent Worms Like It Hot
Vent Worms Like It Hot

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