Life is what you filter.
Life, even when confined to the murky depths of the deep sea is nevertheless dependent to a large extent on the captured energy stored by algae and other organic matter. This matter descends from the thin sunlit layer of surface waters above. There are however, in the deepest oceans living communities whose energy is gained from other sources. For example; fissures in the Earth’s crust draw in cold seawater which trickles down to the magma layer. When superheated this water rises again from a vent or crevice in the form of a jet stream and various minerals are expelled as they cool, giving them the appearance of black or white smoke.
Extraordinarily, these hydrothermal vents, subterranean shafts venting the Earth’s molten centre, teem with some of the most unique and mysterious creatures on Earth; life, in a seemingly contradictory form. The hydrogen sulphide and methane emissions from such vents are to most life highly toxic yet they provide energy for a remarkably specialized community of worms, crabs, molluscs, shrimp, anemones, and soft corals. Bacteria and primitive microbes called Archaea convert the sulphur-rich emissions into energy. The Archaea and autonomous bacteria are directly fed upon by the other vent inhabitants.
Other bacteria have formed elaborate symbiotic relationships with vent-dwellers such as mussels and clams. There are giant tubeworms, a meter long, which have no mouths or digestive systems, and they derive energy instead from the bacteria in their tissues, which in exchange receive protection by living within the worm. The many trillions of bacteria found in these worms produce sufficient energy to make their hosts the fastest growing marine invertebrates.
Another inhabitant of hydrothermal vents is the large Pompeii worm, which also probably gets much of its food from bacteria, this time attached to the outside of the worm’s body. Many typically live together in large honeycomb-like colonies around vent openings from which floods super-heated water in excess of 150°C.9 It is likely that these and other worms around hydrothermal vents may well be the most heat-tolerant animals on Earth.
Special thanks to Oceana.org and to the work of Richard Lutz, Rutgers University.
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