What Are Giant Tube Worms?

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Giant tube worms are ocean-bottom-dwelling worms that grow to lengths of 5 feet (1.5 meters). The worms lack both mouth and gut, and are topped with feathery growths comprised of over 200,000 tiny tentacles. The giant tube worm's Latin name is Riftia pachyptila Jones. It is named after worm expert Meredith Jones of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

The phenomenal growth of the giant tube worm is due to the hundreds of billions of symbiotic bacteria that live inside it. ("Symbiotic" describes a mutually beneficial relationship between two organisms.) The tube worms absorb oxygen from the water, as well as carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide. The bacteria convert these chemicals into carbohydrates and proteins, which sustain the worm.

The giant tube worms were discovered in 1977 by the deep submergence oceanic research vessel called Alvin. The vessel was exploring the ocean floor of the Galapagos Ridge, located 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) below the Pacific Ocean surface and 200 miles (322 kilometers) from the Galapagos Islands. The worms were found near hydrothermal (hot water) ocean vents.

Sources: "Basic Elements of Undersea Exploration." Encyclopaedia Britannica CD 97; Golob, Richard. Almanac of Science and Technology: What's New and What's Known, pp. 290-92.

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