These Worms Can Only Live in Glaciers, and Liquefy When They Get Warm

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There are creatures that spend their entire lives inside a glacier. They come out at night. They scavenge relentlessly. They thrive in the cold. If they weren’t totally harmless, they’d be the perfect horror movie creatures.

Solifugus means “flees from the sun.” Mesenchytraeus solifugus, discovered in the 1800s on a glacier in Alaska, has every reason to behave that way. Accurately known as the “ice worm,” this creature spends its entire life inside a glacier, eating the pollen and algae that’s been blown onto the glacier through the years. And this creature wasn’t hard to find. Ice worms are only a couple of inches long at most, but are incredibly dark, usually brown or black, and stand out against the ice, even at night.

During the day, though, they’re nowhere to be found. These worms are meant to spend their entire lives around 0 °C. When it gets to be too cold, they live beneath the snow on glaciers, ferreting out trapped pollen in the ice. Although the surface of the glacier gets too cold for them, the temperature inside stays a nice, warm freezing.


But what they really can’t tolerate is heat. If these worms were New Yorkers, they would only live in January and early February. Once the temperature gets up to 5 °C, or 40 °F, their bodies not only die, they actually liquefy. Autolysis kicks in, and their own digestive enzymes dissolve their body. So, take your pick as to which is more horrifying: Either these ice worms melt like hideous squirmy snowmen, or getting too hot causes them to eat themselves from the inside out. Either way, they end up a puddle of denatured proteins.

[Source: Morphologic characterization of the ice worm, Wait . . . Ice worms?]