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The Ice Worm Cometh

Article #334 • Written by Alan Bellows

This is the prototype for our new-and-experimental Short variety of article. If well-received, these Shorts will help to fill the gaps between full articles. Please let us know what you think...who likes short Shorts?

In 1887, a glacial geologist named George Frederick Wright was hiking across the Muir Glacier in southeast Alaska when something strange caught his eye. Just as the daylight began to fade, the previously uninterrupted expanse of white snow around him began to develop what appeared to be a five o'clock shadow. These wriggling "whiskers" grew rapidly and emerged from the solid ice, leaving the snow crawling with an astonishing number of small black worms. Within approximately an hour there were tens of thousands of them criss-crossing the snow as far as he could see, leaving nary a square inch unwormed. A few hours later they began to slip effortlessly back into the ice, ultimately leaving nothing but pure white snow behind for the morning sun. The ice scientist brought news of these strange ice worms back to polite civilization, yet even over a century later little is known about the intriguing organisms.

The creatures that Wright observed were Mesenchytraeus solifugus--inch-or-so long ice-dwelling worms that reside exclusively in the coastal glaciers of Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. The ice worms are so married to their home glaciers that even when a glacier is surrounded by a snow field the creatures will not wander more than a few meters from the underlying glacier's edge. Moreover, these unusual organisms thrive only at temperatures near the freezing point of water. If one warms an ice worm to even a few degrees above freezing the worm will melt into goo. During the coldest months of the year the worms do not appear on the surface at all; it is suspected that they creep deep into the ice and suspend their animations for the duration of winter.

Although the ice worms lack eyes, some unknown mechanism allows them to respond to light and dark. By day the throngs of worms lurk as deep as two meters below the surface, and by night they squirm out to feed. Their preferred foods are bacteria, bits of pollen, and various snow algae including watermelon snow, a pinkish algae which creates swaths of snow that have the hue and aroma of fresh watermelon. Exactly how these worms penetrate the seemingly solid glacier ice is still a mystery. Some researchers hypothesize that the worms use the large pore atop their heads to excrete a lubricant that allows them to slip through minuscule fissures, while others suggest that the same pore might instead secrete an antifreeze agent that melts a path through the ice.

Although ice worms are usually solitary wanderers in the friscalating dusklight, they do occasionally linger in meltwater pools during the day. There they often intermingle as writhing, knotty groups engaged in what is assumed to be reproductive ice worm orgies.

In recent years NASA has provided limited funding to reverse-engineer Mesenchytraeus solifugus' cold tolerance to see if it might provide insight into possible life on our icy neighboring planets. More pragmatic scientists are also teasing out the ice worms' secrets in hopes that the cold-resistant proteins might enable long-term cold-storage of human organ and tissues for transplantation. Sadly, our opportunity to exploit the ice worms is shrinking just as rapidly as the glaciers that they inhabit. Sorry ice worms. With warmest personal regards, humanity.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 16 November 2011. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

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39 Comments
sid
Posted 16 November 2011 at 11:30 am

I like short Shorts.


ti83
Posted 16 November 2011 at 11:33 am

Brilliant! I love the shorts. Keep them coming!


jennmv
Posted 16 November 2011 at 11:36 am

I like the shorts. Perfect for mini work break. Keep them coming.


FrankLee
Posted 16 November 2011 at 12:28 pm

Damn interesting, but I prefer the full, long, never-want-them-to-end articles


VR_Don
Posted 16 November 2011 at 12:53 pm

I enjoyed that. I think the shorts are a great idea in between the more lengthy stuff. Keep it up!


qmcswret
Posted 16 November 2011 at 02:01 pm

Very enjoyable, indeed! Thanks and I will be glad to do my part, reading as you continue posting :-)


darren.l
Posted 16 November 2011 at 02:28 pm

Tasty morsels of brain candy to keep us salivating and in perpetual hunger for the full meal.

Yum Yum!

Thank you kind Sirs! Please keep them coming!


Anonymousx2
Posted 16 November 2011 at 04:08 pm

Mr. Bellows:

And just when I thought I had heard about all of the unusual life forms on the planet...

This is great.

Do us a favor: Don't print all that you have. These will be great in your next book.


Ava
Posted 16 November 2011 at 06:10 pm

The short was great, and if it means that we'll get more frequent articles, then I say go for it.


Swift Loris
Posted 16 November 2011 at 09:06 pm

Outstanding. More, more!

New T-shirt slogan: "I am a solitary wanderer in the friscalating dusklight."


sssssssspoon
Posted 16 November 2011 at 09:47 pm

Well done. Even a quickie is better than none at all.


Spike
Posted 17 November 2011 at 09:07 am

I like the shorts, like pie, they go well with coffee for a quick work break. Clears my head between technical writing tasks. Also, who does love the image of ice with a wormy 5 o'clock shadow...


Stead311
Posted 17 November 2011 at 09:16 am

ahhh so itchy!


yogahz
Posted 17 November 2011 at 09:18 am

We like short Shorts!


igmothemagus
Posted 17 November 2011 at 09:33 am

I must say that I did enjoy the short. It has made me want to find out more for myself to be sure.

The pod cast does sound very promising to me as well! I certainly look forward to it.


HuNoze
Posted 17 November 2011 at 10:25 am

Shorts is way better than Nones.
Keep it up.


kulture
Posted 17 November 2011 at 04:11 pm

Deep :-) please continue


rsmithx
Posted 17 November 2011 at 05:54 pm

Short Shorts > No Shorts (or pants for that matter)


SockMonkey
Posted 18 November 2011 at 07:41 am

Love the short shorts.


Vishal
Posted 18 November 2011 at 10:00 am

Great idea! I just hope the short 'shorts' do not end up replacing the full length articles eventually.


Alan Bellows
Posted 18 November 2011 at 10:40 am

said: "Great idea! I just hope the short ‘shorts’ do not end up replacing the full length articles eventually."

Nah...the full-length articles are more fun to research and write. Additionally, our tentative plan is for episodes of our upcoming podcast to be tied to feature-length articles; so it would require considerable silliness to halt their production.


Vishal
Posted 20 November 2011 at 10:04 pm

Nah…the full-length articles are more fun to research and write. Additionally, our tentative plan is for episodes of our upcoming podcast to be tied to feature-length articles; so it would require considerable silliness to halt their production."

That is excellent news, thanks for clarifying that Alan. Eagerly looking forward to the podcasts.

Cheers!


jfreas
Posted 21 November 2011 at 06:40 am

I like the shorts. I enjoy the more frequent content even in shorter form.

While here though, a spelling check please:

"These wriggling “whiskers” grew rapidly end emerged" in the article above should probably read "These wriggling “whiskers” grew rapidly and emerged" (and vs end).

Thanks for shorts.


Alan Bellows
Posted 21 November 2011 at 10:02 am

said: "above should probably read “These wriggling “whiskers” grew rapidly and emerged” (and vs end)."

Oops. Fixed, thanks.


Arwen
Posted 22 November 2011 at 09:02 am

I like short shorts!!! And loooove long longs!


LoveandSausages
Posted 22 November 2011 at 06:46 pm

I'm so glad I get to be apart of the site when it's alive now! I think this is the renewal of a beautiful procrastinationship.


majunk
Posted 23 November 2011 at 03:09 pm

Love the shorts, love the longs, and love the site. Welcome back!


HolgerTheDane
Posted 25 November 2011 at 03:22 pm

I signed up just to add this comment. Don't jump on the global warming band wagon...things seem to be looking up for the glacier worms: http://iceagenow.info/2011/11/glaciers-growing-rockies/

BTW: Love the new Short Format.


jabba359
Posted 26 November 2011 at 01:08 pm

I like the shorts. And depending on who's wearing them, the shorter the better!


errna
Posted 29 November 2011 at 01:15 am

Remember this?

""The Lair of the Ice Worm" is a fantasy short story by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter featuring the fictional sword and sorcery hero Conan the Barbarian created by Robert E. Howard."


bubaks
Posted 16 December 2011 at 09:05 pm

I like short shorts. Its like a quickie.


quickbaby
Posted 27 December 2011 at 10:54 am

i like it ALL. more please!


FinkerRinker
Posted 15 January 2012 at 07:41 pm

Pretty damn, good i like it!


doc
Posted 28 January 2012 at 08:53 pm

It's true, size doesn't matter. Just happy you're back.


heffalump
Posted 26 March 2012 at 05:24 am

I love the shorts but not the Oxford comma.


heffalump
Posted 26 March 2012 at 07:05 pm

I love the shorties but I'm not as fond of the Oxford comma.


robust1
Posted 04 April 2012 at 08:53 pm

I dig the shorts. Keep'em comin'. Have you ever done any research into the tubeworms that live on the geothermal vents on the abyssal plane? They likewise exist in an environment that is baffling, not only due to the high temperatures but also due to the fact their habitat is flooded with hydrogen sulfide, which makes them completely alien compared to organisms that rely on oxygen to survive.


Mnemes
Posted 16 June 2012 at 07:45 am

I happened to have stumbled upon your articles while browsing the web and have been greatly enjoying them. The imagery of the first paragraph in this short article in particular -with the worms all surfacing at once- caused me to try and find a video or at least a pic of such an event. Though I didn't find what I was specifically looking for, I did happen upon this blog.

http://ambicun.blogspot.com/2012/04/ice-worm-cometh.html

I 'm don't understand the language on the page, but the post itself seems to be a direct copy/paste of your article. Just wanted to bring this to your attention.


Rick Klages
Posted 30 July 2014 at 02:38 pm

The Royal Tenenbaums

Eli Cash: "The crickets and the rust-beetles scuttled among the nettles of the sage thicket. "Vámonos, amigos," he whispered, and threw the busted leather flintcraw over the loose weave of the saddlecock. And they rode on in the friscalating dusk light."


END OF COMMENTS
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