The Pompeii Worm, Alvinella pompejanaCreated by Sarah Bordenstein, Marine Biological Laboratory
In 1997, nearly 21 years after the discovery of the first hydrothermal vent system, marine biologist Craig Cary and colleagues identified the most heat-tolerant animal on Earth—Alvinella pompejana, the Pompeii worm. Pompeii worms were initially discovered by French researchers in the early 1980's and are described as deep-sea polychaetes that reside in tubes near hydrothermal vents along the seafloor. They can reach up to 5 inches in length and are pale gray with red tentacle-like gills on their heads. Perhaps most fascinating, is that their tail end is often resting in temperatures as high as 176º F, while their feather-like head sticks out of the tubes into water that is a much cooler 72º F. Scientists are attempting to understand how Pompeii worms can withstand such extreme temperatures by studying the bacteria that form a "fleece-like" covering on their backs. Living in a symbiotic relationship, the worms secrete mucous from tiny glands on their backs to feed the bacteria, and in return they are protected by some degree of insulation. The bacteria have also been discovered to be chemolithotrophic, contributing to the ecology of the vent community.
General Information For Educators Advanced Resources
Learn More About the Pompeii Worm...
Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana), head at bottom left. Photo credit: University of Delaware
- A Moment of Silence: The Magnificent Pompeii Worm. This two-minute radio program from Indiana University discusses the magnificent Pompeii worm. The Pompeii worm resides in tubes near hydrothermal vents along the seafloor. While in the tube... ( This site may be offline. )
- Hot-Water Worms May Use Bacteria as Shield. This National Geographic news article highlights research being done to study the Pompeii worm (Alvinella pompejana), the most heat tolerant complex organism on... (more info)
- Keeping "Cool" at Deep-Sea Vents. This Astrobiology Magazine article reports that a research team of marine scientists has determined that water chemistry controls the location and distribution of two... (more info)
- Sea Vent Viewer. This web site serves as an educational overview of National Science Foundation (NSF) earth and environmental science research focusing on hydrothermal vent systems... ( This site is likely no longer available. )
- The Worm that Boasts Earth's Hottest Lifestyle. This brief Exploratoriumdispatch reports that the Pompeii worm, an inhabitant of hydrothermal vent ecosystems, can withstand hotter temperatures than any other creature... (more info)
Explore the Pompeii Worm in the Classroom
- Black Smokers: Life Forms. This educational web site features life forms of deep sea hydrothermal systems. Hosted by the American Museum of Natural History, this site offers a brief introduction... (more info)
- C.S.I. on the Deep Reef. In this lesson students discover the factors that are indicative of chemotrophic nutritional strategies. Students will be able to describe at least three... (more info)
This image shows a sampling system used to study microbial diversity around the diffusive hot vent called Bag City. It also shows various tube worms and other animals. Image taken by Julie Huber, courtesy of the NOAA Vents Program.
- Characterization of a Novel Spirochete Associated with the Hydrothermal Vent Polychaete Annelid, Alvinella pompejana . This Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal article reports the characterization of a novel microbe associated with the hydrothermal vent tubeworm Alvinella... (more info)
- Diversity of Dissimilatory Bisulfite Reductase Genes of Bacteria Associated with the Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vent Polychaete Annelid Alvinella pompejana . This Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal article assesses the presence and diversity of bacteria associated with Alvinella pompejana (Pompeii worm) that... (more info)
- Evidence of Chemolithoautotrophy in the Bacterial Community Associated with Alvinella pompejana, a Hydrothermal Vent Polychaete . This Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal article analyzes the bacterial community associated with Alvinella pompejana (Pompeii worm), suggesting that... (more info)
- Evolution and Biogeography of Deep-Sea Vent and Seep Invertebrates . This Science Magazine article reviews the diversity, evolution, and biogeography of deep-sea vent and seep invertebrates. Beginning with their initial discovery... (more info)
- Metazoans in Extreme Environments: Adaptations of Hydrothermal Vent and Hydrocarbon Seep Fauna. This Gravitational and Space Biology Bulletin article examines the challenges of living on or near a hydrothermal vent or hydrothermal seep system... (more info)
- Phylogenetic characterization of the bacterial assemblage associated with mucous secretions of the hydrothermal vent polychaete Paralvinella palmiformis. This FEMS Microbiology Ecology journal article features a culture-independent molecular analysis of the bacterial assemblage associated with mucous secretions of the... (more info)
- Phylogenetic characterization of the epibiotic bacteria associated with the hydrothermal vent polychaete Alvinella pompejana. This Applied and Environmental Microbiology journal abstract describes the study in which select epibiotic bacteria associated with the polychaete Alvinella ... (more info)
For additional resources about the Pompeii worm, search the Microbial Life collection.
Back to Marine Symbiosis