Tubeworms are some of the ocean’s most prolific creatures, and are thought to have one of the longest life spans of any creature on Earth — some tubeworms have been estimated to be more than 250 years old! Although there is a stunning variety of sizes and appearances in tubeworms, they all share a couple characteristics.
Tubeworms all consist of a soft body encased in a harder outer tube, which can be hard like a shell, or more like the texture of leather. The outer tube gives the tubeworm a place to retreat into when threatened, which happens in a fraction of a second. Tubeworms are sessile creatures, meaning they anchor and remain on one spot in the crevice of a rock or coral. At the opposite end of the anchor point is the tubeworm’s plume, which sways about in the water column, harvesting chemicals that it needs to survive.
More specifically, the microbes that live within the tubeworm need the chemicals to survive, which in turn supports the survival of the tubeworm. These microbes live in specialized cells in the tubeworm’s body, and the process for which they metabolize the chemicals harvested from the water column gives the tubeworm the nutrition it needs to live — a perfect symbiotic relationship.
These mouthless, gutless, legless creatures are the ocean’s stalwarts for their ability to withstand a wide range of ocean depths and temperatures. Species can be found anywhere from deep sea vents and cold seeps to shallow coral reefs, and their delicate plumage retracting suddenly when you happen upon them is unmistakable. Enjoy this lovely gallery of the amazing variety of tubeworms.
Top image via ddie