tubeworms

Are Tubeworms Really Made of Tubes?

Tubeworms are not actually made of tubes, but they do look like tubes. Scientists and researchers say the simplest way to describe what a tubeworm looks like is: the tubeworm looks like a giant lipstick tube. Tubeworms, (Rifta pachyptila) are long and lean. They can grow up to up to eight feet long. The worm’s tube is tough because this is where the worm makes its home. The tube is white and it is made of one of the toughest natural materials in the ocean called chitin, pronounced “kite-in.”

Tubeworms

Tubeworms

Besides the bright tip and the white tub, you won’t find much else on a tubeworm. They have no eyes, mouth, or stomach. According to the University of Delaware Graduate College of Marine Studies, “tubeworm 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. This chemical- based food-making process is referred to as chemosynthesis.”

While the tubeworm does not have a mouth in its mature stage, it does have a mouth and a stomach in its earliest stages. During this time, bacteria enter through the mouth and gut, so they have stores. As the tubeworm grows, the mouth and gut disappear. The University of Delaware states that “while the tubeworm depends on the bacteria that live in its body for energy and food, sometimes tubeworms provide food for other deep-sea dwellers. Fish and crabs may nibble off the tubeworm’s red plume.”

If you would like to catch a glimpse of a tubeworm while snorkeling or deep sea diving, good luck. The tubeworm can only be found near hydrothermal vents, more than a mile deep on the Pacific Ocean floor.

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For more information tubeworms or to view images and a video, visit Voyage to the Deep at http://www.ceoe.udel.edu/deepsea/home/home.html.

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