Bony home

Published: Saturday 15 February 1997

Some of the earth's strangest creatures live around hydrothermal vents -- hot springs that bubble from volcanic fissures in the ocean depths. These animals--tube worms, giant clams and others -- form a food chain that depends not on photosynthetic plants but on bacteria that live on and inside their bodies. The bacteria break down hydrogen sulfide in the vents, releasing body building energy for their hosts. Marine biologists have long pondered on how these animals manage to colonise different vents, which may be hundreds of miles apart. Deep currents are too slow to carry vent larvae far before they starve. Now, some researchers have suggested that whale bones at the bottom of the sea may act as 'stepping stones' for the larvae by supporting the bacteria on which these communities depend. Larvae landing on the bones would give rise to the tube worms and other creatures that eventually spawn their own larvae.

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