These record-breaking tube worms can survive for centuries

One deep-sea species can live more than 300 years, the longest of its kind

Tube worms

GROWING OLD DOWN DEEP  Tube worms near seafloor vents eat well and live long.

Courtesy of the Chemo III Project/BOEM and NOAA-OER

Some deep-sea tube worms get long in the tooth … er, tube. Living several decades longer than its shallow-water relatives, Escarpia laminata has the longest known life span for a tube worm, aging beyond 300 years, researchers report in the August Science of Nature.

E. laminata lives 1,000 to 3,300 meters deep in the Gulf of Mexico, near seafloor vents that seep energy-rich compounds that feed bacteria that feed the tube worms. In 2006, biologists marked 356 E. laminata in their natural habitat and measured how much the creatures had grown a year later. To estimate the ages of tube worms of different sizes, the researchers plugged E. laminata’s average yearly growth rate — along with estimates of birthrates and death rates, based on observations of another 1,046 tube worms — into a simulation. The species’s typical life span is 100 to 200 years, the researchers calculate, but some larger tube worms may be more than 300 years old. 

With few large predators, deep-sea tube worms have got it good, says study coauthor Alanna Durkin, a biologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. “Once they find a seat at the buffet, they’re pretty set for hundreds of years.” The researchers’ methodology appears robust, says ocean scientist David Reynolds of Cardiff University in Wales, who was not involved in the work. Although variable environmental conditions could affect growth rate over time, he says.

Previously the staff writer for physical sciences at Science News, Maria Temming is the assistant managing editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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