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Strange Creatures and Animals that Live near Hydrothermal Vents

Updated on June 8, 2014
Hydrothermal Vents
Hydrothermal Vents | Source
Black Smokers
Black Smokers | Source

Living Creatures Live Near Hydrothermal Vents

Some say that light is the source of life. Did you know that there are strange ocean creatures that live near hydrothermal vents that do not require light to survive? Yet throughout the centuries it has been well known that without light all living animals and plants would die.

Take for instance photosynthesis, the process by which chlorophyll containing plants use the energy of light to manufacture carbohydrates from carbon dioxide and water. Additionally, it is thought to be common knowledge that whales float the ocean surface for not only air but light. Anything that interferes with photosynthesis can have harmful consequences; plant life is poor and slow, insects and funguses are prominent, accumulation of winter food is slowed, and growth can completely stop. This was a common belief until recently.

How about the ocean?

How could there be strange ocean creatures and plants that live without light? An example of the importance of light is the "sunshine" vitamin found in both plant, animal, and human tissue. The suns ultraviolet rays activate a form of cholesterol present in the skin and convert it into vitamin D. Although vitamin D can be acquired through ingestion, most foods do not have adequate recommended amounts to sustain health. The National Research Council sets the dietary allowance of vitamin D at 400 I.U.'s per day. Foods that contain high amounts of vitamin D are salmon/sardines at 1,350 IU's ; fruits and vegetables do not contain any vitamin D.

So how could strange undersea creatures survive without vitamin D you get from sunshine? Without an ample supply of vitamin D, bones soften; rickets can form; plus there is weakening of the skull, legs, wrists, and spine; also muscular numbness, tingling, and spasms can develop; poor metabolism, flabbiness, diabetes, nearsightedness, and tooth decay. (Nutritional Almanac) Yet scientists have found new life that is flourishing without a single ounce of vitamin D.

In the past we have concluded that light is necessary for all plant and animal life including humans. It is no wonder that scientists have declared light to be essential to all living matter. But can we conclude that life would cease to exist without light? Is light really the source of life? This was a common belief until now. There are strange undersea creatures that thrives without light and what we know about the ocean has changed.

Yeti Crab
Yeti Crab | Source

Galapago's Islands

In 1977, two geologists descended 8,200 feet into the ocean near the Galapago's Islands which is 972 km's west of Ecuador. Their dive was focused on deep sea hot springs and hydrothermal vents. Not only did they find hydrothermal vents but they also found strange undersea life and that light is not the main source of life for all creatures.

Keep in mind that hydrothermal vents are areas where the sea floor is extended apart by volcanic activity and super heated water (750 - 840 F, 400-450 C). Lava bursts from the rifts, forming a new crust and heating the surrounding cold water (34-36 F, 1-2 C). With the mixing of extreme temperatures of water, hydrogen sulfide forms the rocks instantly color the hot jets black (black smokers). (E.K.L. Lerner and B.W. Lerner)

What is even more perplexing is that hydrogen sulfide is usually poisonous to life, plant and animal. Brief exposures to high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide can cause a loss of consciousness and possibly death. Exposure can cause permanent or long-term effects such as headaches, poor memory, reduced motor function, and a shortened attention span. How could strange undersea creatures survive these conditions? Light is not the source of life for these underwater animals for they live in a toxic environment that would be life threatening for most living things.

With this discovery, scientists are perplexed and realize that they have slightly began to learn about the ocean and its creatures.

Giant Tube Worms with Bright Plumes
Giant Tube Worms with Bright Plumes | Source

Giant White Tubeworms

It was once thought that the depths of the sea contained no life because there is no sunlight. The two Geologists aboard the Alvin discovered strange creatures and plant-life: reefs of mussels, fields of giant clams, crabs, anemones, large pink fish, and 6 foot white tube-worms with bright red plumes, said geologist John Edmond from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (Meadows) How is this possible?

Thus, many questions among scientists were raised. How could any animal or plant live without sunlight. Likewise, how can a creature live off of hydrothermal vents full of hydrogen sulfide? Even more perplexing to scientists are the giant tubeworms that have no mouths, guts, or anuses. How could these creatures live? These strange undersea lifeforms will baffle scientists for years to come.

The first breakthrough in understanding about the ocean was in 1980. Coleen Cavanaugh, a Harvard graduate student surmised that hydrogen sulfide water was teeming with bacteria, giving energy to life forms by oxidizing the water, a process called chemosynthesis. The giant tubeworms with no mouths, guts, or anuses most likely absorb nutrients throughout the skin. Upon dissection of the tubeworm, a sulfur crystal organ that extended 75% of its body was found. This organ is thought to be used to detoxify the sulfide that would be fatal to most animals. (Meadows)

At first Cavanaugh (now on the faculty at Harvard), was not taken seriously by other biologists. They did no believe that the strange undersea creature could actually exist. But her persistence and previous experience with a 2 year study of sulfide rich salt marshes on the coast of Cape Cod paid off. More research was made and eventually Cavanaugh's hypothesis became real. As well, Cavanaugh found that the 10 inch clams and other mollusks have symbiotic bacteria in their gills which chemo synthesize hydrogen sulfide. (Meadows)

Giant Anemone
Giant Anemone | Source

More Than 100 Species Thrive Without Light

Today, biologists have found more than 100 species of strange undersea life that absorb their nutrients through their skin. Many of these creatures depend upon a sulfide environment (Meadows) and not on light for the source of life.

Hydrogen sulfide is not the only poisonous gas that deep sea creatures live on. Cavanaugh and other researchers have discovered that several marine vertebrates can get their energy from methane, also found near hydrothermal vents and in cold springs off the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. (Meadows)

Astonishing theories and answers about the ocean lies in our hydrothermal vents here on earth and on other planets. Many Astrogeologists and Astrobiologists claim that life may have originated from hydrothermal activity.

Mars and Jupiter's moon Europa, both have liquid water and volcanic activity beneath its surface, which indicates hydrothermal vents. (E.K.L. Lerner and B.W. Lerner) Is it possible that there is life now forming on two planets in our own galaxy and that light is not the source of life on these planets?


Recent Discoveries

2010: New ocean life near deep sea hydrothermal vents was discovered off the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. Marine biologists Alex Rogers and Jon Copley report that it is the lushest, richest vents, in terms of life, that they have come across. Some of the discoveries include a white-grey octopus, snails, a sea star with seven legs, yeti crab, sea anemones and barnacles.

Dr. Alex Rogers is the Scientific Director of International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO) and Professor of Conservation Biology at the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford,. He is also currently the Commissioner for the International Commission on Land Use Change and Ecosystems for the Global Legislators Organisation for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE International).

Dr. Jon Copely is a marine ecology specialist at the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (NOCS). His work focuses on patterns of diversity and abundance in communities occupying insular marine habitats such as hydrothermal vents and cold seeps.


Geothermal Deep-ocean Vents. World of Earth Science. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. Thomson Gale, 2003. 2006. 12 Oct, 2006

Life without Light: Discoveries from the Abyss., Smithsonian Nation Zoological Park, ZooGoer . Robin Meadows; May/June 1996:

Life without Light: Discoveries from the Abyss. National Zoo: ZooGoer 1996 volume 3


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    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Thank you DS Duby. Yep, pretty crazy huh.

    • DS Duby profile image

      DS Duby 5 years ago from United States, Illinois

      incredibly informative hub, I had heard of creature being found in the sea surviving without light but had no idea they survived on toxins. voted up, awesome and interesting.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Thanks again Derdrui. Yes, theories behind the fundamentals of survival have been rapidly changing. I will have to check out your Hub about Yellowstone Grand Prismatic Spring, it sounds quite inviting. Ty on the kudos.

    • profile image

      Derdriu 5 years ago

      Mecheshier, It's really fascinating how you explain the deep waters' life forms and living conditions. In particular, I like how you followed Colleen Cavanaugh's discoveries regarding hydrogen sulfide synthesizing bacteria. There are similar bacteria thriving under similar conditions (at least of heat) in Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring, about which I wrote a hub.

      It's also really exciting how you show that current science is continuing to find life forms where previously scientists didn't expect to find them.

      Up + UFABI.

      Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing such great learning fun, Derdriu

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Thank you. Yes, the creatures are quite amazing.

    • christin53 profile image

      Ann-Christin 5 years ago from UK

      I really enjoyed reading this hub it's very interesting and I love the picture of the Yetti crab.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback. Great point. As well, vitamin D encourages the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorous.

    • aa lite profile image

      aa lite 5 years ago from London

      Really nice pictures, I love the yetti crab. Of course invertebrates might not need vitaminD3 the way we do because they don't have bones.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      Hi Redberry. Yes, very fascinating indeed. The title used to be "The Beginnings of Life and creatures that live near Hydrothermal Vents" because these creatures are so fascinating. Unfortunately many took the title wrong and thought I was referring to how life started. I haven't followed the links in a while, not sure if they update any data. Hopefully there will be something fascinating.

    • Redberry Sky profile image

      Redberry Sky 5 years ago

      Fascinating Hub on the extreme conditions some life thrives in, and some beautiful pictures that really piqued my interest. I was intrigued to read about the recent discoveries in 2010, I'll follow your reference links to find out even more about these strange creatures :)

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 5 years ago

      @ bmcoll3278 Thank you

    • bmcoll3278 profile image

      bmcoll3278 5 years ago from Longmont, Colorado

      Very good info thanks for sharing

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Thank you Nan for the great feedback. I am happy you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the mark up. :-)

    • profile image

      Nan Mynatt 6 years ago

      You have informed us about the secrets of the oceans.It is amazing and well explained. If more of us explored our universe we would be happier. There are so many things yet to be discovered. I marked you up..

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Thank you MysteryPlanet. Yes, this was a delight to research.

    • MysteryPlanet profile image

      MysteryPlanet 6 years ago

      Well presented mecheshier. This stuff re-defines what many people think about what constitutes "life"

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Thank you toknowinfo. These creatures are quite amazing.

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      Amazing hub! Thank you for sharing. I learned about hydrothermal vents and you explained it so well. Rated up, awesome and beautiful!

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Yes gajanis786, there are still things to discover in nature. Hopefully we will never quit learning.

    • gajanis786 profile image

      gajanis786 6 years ago

      Very interesting doubt nature has lot of such wonderful things which always fascinate humankind.Thanks.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Thanks Seeker7, well appreciated

    • Seeker7 profile image

      Helen Murphy Howell 6 years ago from Fife, Scotland


      Fantastic and fascinating hub!!!

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Sufidreamer, yes hydrothermal vents are just amazing. What a great topic to write an essay on. Thank you for the wonderful feedback.

    • Sufidreamer profile image

      Sufidreamer 6 years ago from Sparti, Greece

      Fantastic Hub - For my final exam, I had to write an essay on deep sea thermal vents, a very interesting ecosystem. You have done a great job at bringing these fascinating places to life and left us with more questions than answers, the mark of a good article :)

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      :-) Yes, God is light and Gods creations are amazing. Nothing is impossible.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

      Thank you for this illuminating Hub. It is very good. Other than these few exceptions, I have always found it fascinating that living organisms require light and God is light. :D

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Hi kephrira. yes 'goldilocks region' is right. We would be quite arrogant as humans to think that life did not exist outside our realm... I will have to research creatures from the poles. Thank you for your feedback

    • kephrira profile image

      kephrira 6 years ago from Birmingham

      Very interesting. Combine these organisms living without light with the other fairly recent discovery of bacteria living in very cold ice at the poles, and perhaps life in other solar systems could be surviving outside the 'goldilocks region' and in all sorts of cold, dark places.

    • mecheshier profile image

      mecheshier 6 years ago

      Thank you surale. Such wonderful feedback.

    • surale profile image

      surale 6 years ago from pakistan

      it is a wonderful hub waoooooooo soooooooooo good work u done. carry on