Common Name: Tubeworm
Scientific Name: Filogranella elatensis
Species: F. elatensis
When you see a tubeworm, the part that you see is not actually the tubeworm itself. According to Dr. Colleen Cavanaugh, a professor at Harvard University, each tubeworm is made of a soft body that is inside of a harder outer layer tube. This tube is called chitlin. The chitlin protects the tubeworm from predators. Tubeworms can grow to about 9 feet long and 4 inches wide. The tubeworm is often described as looking like a tube of lipstick. The part of the tubeworm that sticks out of the chitlin is a bright red color because it is filled with blood. The tubeworm sticks this part out so it can get oxygen from the water. Dr. Cavanaugh also discovered that when a tubeworm is in the early stages of life, it has a mouth and eyes, but these eventually disappear when they get bigger (ocean.udel.edu, 2003).
Not many people have seen tubeworms in their natural environment. This is because tubeworms live over a mile deep in the Pacific Ocean near hydrothermal vents. “A hydrothermal vent is an opening in the ocean floor where superheated water containing minerals flows out. The hottest vents of all are “black smokers’ (Planet Ocean).” The tubeworm does very well in this ecosystem because they do not need sunlight for a source of energy but they do use the chemicals from the hydrothermal vents as a source of energy (tqnyc.org).
Scientists really do not know how many tubeworms there are because they live so far deep in the ocean. But according to Think Quest, tubeworms are in a group of the fastest growing invertebrates. But there are some places where the population of the tubeworm is shrinking. According to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, “In 1979, Scripps scientist Robert Hessler saw a lush community of tubeworms at the Galápagos Rift vent site called “Rose Garden.” When he returned in 1985, the tubeworms were gone. The “neighborhood” had been overrun by mussels and clams, which out-competed the tubeworms for food.”
During the early stages of the tubeworm’s life, bacteria enters through the tubeworm’s mouth. As the tubeworm gets bigger the mouth disappears and the bacteria stays inside. This makes the tubeworm have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria that live inside of them. The bacteria change the chemicals that are from the hydrothermal vents into food for the tubeworm and the tubeworm provides a home for the bacteria (Think Quest).
The tubeworms are consumers and the reason why they are classified as animals in because they eat other organisms and they cannot make their own food (Life Science). Tubeworms usually do not have many predators because not many other organisms live on the bottom of the ocean. Fish and crabs are about the only predators the tubeworm has. The only part of the tubeworm that might be eaten is the bright red part of the worm that sticks out of the chitlin. The only way the tubeworm can defend itself is to retract this part inside the protective tube (venturedeepocean.org).
To me, the tubeworm is a very fascinating creature. What stood out the most for me was that the tubeworm exists without a mouth, eyes, or stomach. Another fact is how the tubeworm can survive under such pressure deep in the ocean and humans cannot. And lastly, the tubeworm was only discovered about 35 years ago. I learned that there are many things deep in the ocean that we do not know about and scientists have much more research and study to do for us to know more about this part of our planet.
Author: Dylan F
Sources: Life Science, Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Harcourt Education Company www. ocean.udel.edu/extreme2003/creatures/tubeworms/index.html. www. school.discoveryeducation.com.Planet Ocean. www.thinkquestnyc.org/NYC063506/tubeworms.html. www.venturedeepocean.org/life/tubworms. www.whoi.edu/oceanus/viewimage.
Photo Credit: http://www.divegallery.com/tubeworm.htm