What are Tubeworms?

Tubeworms are unusual but many scientists think they are also quite beautiful. Tubeworms, (Rifta pachyptila) look like giant lipstick tubes. They can be found near hydrothermal vents, more than a mile deep on the Pacific Ocean floor. These long, lean worms can grow up to 8 feet long. Like the bottom half of a tube of lipstick, the worms’ tube is tough. This is where the worm makes its home. The tube is white, and made of the toughest natural material in the ocean called chitin (pronounced “kite-in”).

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 enters through the mouth and gut, so they have stores. As the worm 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.”

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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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