Although a glacier might not strike you as the best place to call home, the ice worms of the Pacific coast of North America would have it no other way. They are obligate inhabitants of glacier ice (they cannot live anywhere else). In fact, their bodies are so specifically adapted to this cold, harsh environment that they “melt” at room temperature due to liquefaction of their cell membranes.
These worms spend their lives in and on glaciers. They navigate through small tunnels in the ice using their setae—bristly hairs that all annelids, or round worms, use for locomotion—to help them grip the slippery ice. They feed on algae, bacteria, and anything else on the glacier that is small enough to fit in their tiny mouths. During the intensely bright daylight hours, they retreat beneath the glacier surface, only coming back out at twilight. This behavior makes them quite elusive, and the mysterious glacier ice worm has been the inspiration for myths, stories, and even a ballad.
Last updated: June 19, 2017