There are life forms that are as intriguing as they are puzzling, as is the case with the glacier worm. This worm, similar to an earthworm, spends its entire life in the ice, although it cannot survive temperatures below zero. A paradox that intrigues the scientific community and even NASA. Every summer, when the incidence of the sun on the glaciers is evident, millions of them emerge to the surface.
Glacier worm lives in the ice, but cold temperatures kill it off
They were discovered in 1887 on the Muir Glacier in Alaska. Although before this finding, for biology, glaciers were a barren place where no kind of organism could survive.
Glacier black worms (Mesenchytraeus solifugus), inhabit glaciers in North America. They are found in glaciers in Alaska, British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington.
The worms are as thin as dental floss and average 12 centimeters long. They are the only species so far discovered that can live their entire lives in ice.
Every summer millions of them emerge every evening and night to get their food of algae, detritus and microbes. When winter comes, they burrow into the surface of the ice and remain inside until the next summer.
How does the glacier worm survive?
They survive inside glaciers with icy water and thrive there. Something that is irrational for any species, especially cold-blooded creatures like worms. This is what keeps the scientific community and biologists intrigued. For this reason, even at NASA, they decided that they need to be studied in depth.
According to the laws of biology, cold-blooded animals, in cold places become sluggish and frail. However, this does not happen with black worms. In fact, their activity increases as the temperature gets lower.
Biologists at the University of Washington conducted thermal tests. With these they determined that they can survive at temperatures of 24° C at most. However, they die when the temperature is below 0° Celsius.
The explanation is that the worms, when they stay inside the ice are in a kind of igloo. The effect of living in an igloo allows that although the temperature outside is many degrees negative, inside the ice does not reach 0 ° C.
When they are inside the glacier they are safer than when they come to the surface in summer. There, the wind from the surface can freeze them, causing them to die. According to biologists, the worms come to the surface to absorb solar heat that helps their metabolism.
To enhance the research, NASA allocated funding to Rutgers University’s Dan Shain. The goal is for it to analyze the extreme conditions in which the glacier worm survives. The space agency is interested in investigating this type of organism that lives in these extreme conditions. The goal is to know what life is like on other planets.