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Habitats: Hydrothermal Vent - Characteristics

Tubeworms in the Pacific Ocean.
Tubeworms in the Pacific Ocean
(courtesy of NURP)

Although hydrothermal vents are what we would consider a harsh environment, they are teeming (abundant) with life. As long as the vents remain active, which is usually one to two years, animals thrive there. In fact, more than 300 species live around the vents and are unique to this type of environment. These creatures, including tubeworms, fish, crabs, shrimp, clams, anemones and chemosynthetic bacteria, have learned to survive the complete darkness, the extremely hot vent water and the tremendous water pressure.

 

 

Mussels, worms and spider crabs in a seep community of the Gulf of Mexico.
Mussels, worms and spider crabs in a seep community of the Gulf of Mexico.
(courtesy of NURP)

At such depths, sunlight is unable to penetrate and allow plants to photosynthesize. Thus, they cannot be the basis of the food chain as they are for us and for every other creature with which we normally come in contact. Animals at these depths depend on bacteria that are able to convert sulfur found in the vent's fluids into energy through chemosynthesis. Larger animals then eat the chemosynthetic bacteria or eat the animals that eat the bacteria. In other vent creatures, the chemosynthetic bacteria live inside their bodies. Some organisms, such as the tubeworms, that live around the vents do not have a mouth or even a digestive tract as we do. The bacteria actually live inside their bodies and provide nutrients directly to the organisms' tissues.

 

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