At more than a mile and a half deep in the ocean and shrouded in darkness are invertebrates of the most bizarre shapes and lifestyles. Their extraordinary sense of smell and hair-triggered feelers have given them an edge in the darkness, as they undulate and spiral their way toward nutrient-rich hydrothermal vents. Here, they are home. The following photos are of heavily documented, but rarely photographed species found at Tica Vent, an active hot spot along the East Pacific Rise. This photo essay is courtesy of benthic ecologist and MIT-WHOI Joint Program student Lauren Dykman, with information contributed by Susan Mils.
A PHOTO ESSAY OF THE FORMS AND FIGURES FOUND AT HYDROTHERMAL VENTSEdited by Daniel Hentz
Alciopid WormA prolific family of free-swimming worms, alciopids are often known for their paddle-like appendages and large eyes, attributes scientists believe may indicate that they are predators. This specimen likely got trapped in Alvin’s sampling chamber during the sub's ascent.
A PHOTO ESSAY OF THE FORMS AND FIGURES FOUND AT HYDROTHERMAL VENTS
Galapagomystides aristataAt only an inch long, this centipede-like worm is a common site along hydrothermal vents, using its many arms to creep along tube worms, vent chimneys, and beds of mussels, for what scientists suspect may be a blood meal.
Riftia pachyptilaAlso known as the giant tube worm, this vent animal has no mouth or gut. Instead it processes harsh chemicals and nutrients at hydrothermal vents using a helpful bacterium that lives within, helping it grow up to 3 feet in just under a year.
Nereis sandersiDistinguished by the two fangs outside its tubelike mouth, this free-swimming sandworm is found on both extinct and live vents, which has led some scientists to believe it may be an active predator, prowling in the deep.
Bathymargarites symplectorThis small, opalescent snail is bred for the deep sea. This specimen was collected at over 8,200 feet deeper and is known for being a vessel to midstage marine parasites.
Paralvinella grassleiThis larval worm thrives in the Goldilocks zone between the freezing seafloor and warm vent water, where it shoots out of a mucus tube to scoop up bacteria with its frilly tentacles.