Pompeii Worm, Alvinella pompejana

The Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) is a species of polychaete worm, or bristle worm that is only found in the Pacific Ocean. It resides at hydrothermal vents, making it an extremophile, and was first discovered French marine biologists of the coat of the Galapagos Islands in the 1980s. It was described by Lucien Laubier and Daniel Desbruyeres as a deep-sea polychaete that could withstand extreme amounts of heat.

The Pompeii worm can reach an average length of up to five inches and is typically pale grey in color with red gills located on the head. Its body is hidden within a tube that is attached to a hydrothermal vent, which reaches a temperature of about 176 degrees F, while its frilled head protrudes from the tube in waters that reach about 72 degrees F. It is thought that the worms can live in such high temperatures due to the bacteria that reside on its body. The worms secrete a kind of mucus that the bacteria consume, while the bacteria create a protective barrier that creates a form of insulation. Studies have shown that the bacteria may be chemolithotrophic and that they may be an important factor in the feeding patters of the Pompeii worm.

Image Caption: Alvinella pompejana or Pompeii worm, able to survive temperatures as high as 176 degrees F. A coating of protective bacteria covers this deep-sea worm’s back. Credit: National Science Foundation (University of Delaware College of Marine Studies)/Wikipedia