First discovered at hydrothermal vents off the Galapagos Islands, the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana) is the most heat-tolerant complex animal known to science. Pale grey in colour, it can be up to 13 cm long; and glands on its back secrete a mucus which colonies of bacteria feed on, giving it a ‘hairy’ appearance. Its tentacle-like gills are coloured red by haemoglobin. Pompeii worms attach themselves to black smokers and form large colonies enclosed in delicate, paper-thin tubes.
You would think that vent environments, so far from light of day
And insufferably sulphurous, would frighten life away.
Although ninety in the shade (we’re talking Celsius, by the way)
Will soon damage other organisms’ precious DNA,
Alvinella pompejana can repair it, so they say –
Yes, on hydrothermal vents it’s Alvinella rules, OK!