Thursday, November 4, 2010

Giant Tube Worm

(Image Source)
Giant Tube Worms (Riftia pachyptilalive in one of the most harsh and unpredictable habitats on earth - the sea floor. These invertebrates live in the deep parts of the Pacific Ocean, at an average of 5,000 feet down. Amazingly, they cluster near thermal vents that spew an array of harsh chemicals that are lethal to most other organisms. Giant Tube Worms use those chemicals to their benefit with help from their partners in symbiosis. Tube Worms have no mouths or digestive systems, instead, they have a beneficial relationship with their internal bacteria. The bacteria converts the chemicals from the vents into nutrients that sustain the worm.

These worms truly are gigantic, and can grow to lengths of roughly eight feet. They are characterized by their bright red "plume" which is actually a hemoglobin-rich organ that siphons chemicals to the bacteria. The outer tube of the worm is comprised of chitin, the same material that makes up the exoskeletons of crustaceans. When threatened, the plume will retract in to the tube.

Giant Tube Worms reproduce through spawning; eggs are released into the water and are then fertilized. Young worms then eventually hatch and attach themselves within a worm community. No one is really sure how the young worms obtain their symbiotic bacteria, or how they find vents to attach themselves near. We do know, however, that Giant Tube Worms have remarkable growth rate, as they are able to reach a length of about five feet in roughly two years.

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