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Hydrothermal Vent and Cold Seep Worms: Vestimentifera

Hydrothermal Vent Worm (riftia Pachyptila): Species Account

Physical characteristics: This species is the largest of the hydrothermal vent and cold seep worms. They reach up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) long, live in white tubes, and resemble giant lipsticks with their bright red plumes. Their protective flaps are white.

Geographic range: Hydrothermal vent worms live on the East Pacific Rise, Galápagos Rift, and Guayana Basin.

Habitat: These worms are found at depths of about 1 mile (1.5 kilometers) on hydrothermal vents.

This photo of Riftia pachyptila comes from a depth of 1.5 miles (2500 meters) and was shot on a dive in the submersible Alvin. (Craig M. Young, Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. Reproduced by permission.)

Diet: Hydrothermal vent worms rely on bacteria and chemosynthesis for food.

Behavior and reproduction: These worms form dense colonies on hydrothermal vents. One of the fastest-growing marine animals, they build tubes up to 4.9 feet (1.5 meters) and reach adulthood in only 18 months.

Males release sperm into the water. Females also release fertilized eggs. The larvae are capable of spreading out to new hydrothermal vents.

Hydrothermal vent worms and people: They are "flagship" animals for hydrothermal vents and may help to conserve these habitats.

Conservation status: Hydrothermal vent worms are not considered endangered or threatened. ∎



Gage, J. Deep-Sea Biology. A Natural History of Organisms at the Deep-Sea Floor. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Van Dover, C. L. The Ecology of Deep-Sea Hydrothermal Vents. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.


Fisher, C. R., I. A. Urcuyo, M. A. Simpkins, and E. Nix. "Life in the Slow Lane: Growth and Longevity of Cold-seep Vestimentiferans." Marine Ecology-Pubblicazioni della Stazione Zoologica di Napoli 18 (1997): 83-94.

Jones, M. L. "Riftia pachyptila Jones: Observations on the Vestimentiferan Worm from the Galápagos Rift." Science 213 (1981): 333-336.

Lutz, R. A., and R. M. Haymon. "Rebirth of a Deep Sea Vent." National Geographic (November 1994) 186, no. 5: 114-126.

Web sites:

Tubeworm (Riftia pachyptila). http://www.ocean.udel.edu/kiosk/riftia.html (accessed on January 4, 2005).


Scientific American Frontiers: Beneath the Sea. PBS Home Video, 2002.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMollusks, Crustaceans, and Related SpeciesHydrothermal Vent and Cold Seep Worms: Vestimentifera - Physical Characteristics, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Hydrothermal Vent And Cold Seep Worms And People - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, CONSERVATION STATUS