Deep in the Pacific Ocean, there are cracks in Earth’s crust that belch hot lava into the sea. The cracks are called hydrothermal vents, and they are probably the most extreme environments on the planet. There is no light at this depth. The water pressure is enough to crush a person. The water temperature is scalding. And this is where the Pompeii worm makes its home.
Pompeii worms live in colonies. Anchored on tube-like chimneys that form over the vents, the worms sway in the hot water. They adapted in an interesting way to beat the heat. They use a winning combination of mucus and bacteria.
The worms discharge a blanket of thick mucus all over their bodies. It offers a food source for heat-resistant bacteria. Bacteria swarm, devour the mucus, and live on the skin of the worms. Together the mucus and bacteria act as a kind of firefighter’s blanket that shields the worms from heat.
Pompeii worms don’t mind the heat.
They’ve adapted to live near hydrothermal vents.
A wood frog nestles under frozen leaves and frosty grass in Alaska. Winter is coming. The temperature drops. The frog’s heartbeat slows. It takes its last breath and freezes solid. It’s not dead!
At the first sign of freezing temperatures, North American wood frogs take extreme measures to survive. Their hearts slow down and actually stop beating. They stop breathing. Their bodies freeze rock solid. These frogsicles look dead, but they’re not.
Most animals die when they get too cold. If ice forms inside cells, the cells burst, and the animal croaks. But a wood frog’s body produces a high level of sugar in its blood. The sugar acts as an antifreeze. It protects the frog’s organs from damage by not allowing ice to form inside cells. The rest of the frog’s bodily fluids turn to ice in the spaces between the cells. It doesn’t harm the cells or the animal. When spring arrives, the frog thaws, and its heartbeat and breathing return. The frog is as good as new!
Wood frogs freeze solid but don’t die during the winter in Alaska.
Most Bizarre Defense
Lying in the desert sand like a spiky rock, the Texas horned lizard is motionless. This lizard is a favorite food of lots of hungry creatures in the deserts of the southern United States and Mexico—from birds to snakes to bobcats to coyotes. Over time, it has developed some unique adaptations for survival.
A nearby coyote lifts its nose and smells the air. It turns and spots the lizard. So much for camouflage. Luckily, the Texas horned lizard has other ways to defend itself. As the coyote approaches, the lizard hisses and puffs up to make itself look bigger.
The coyote is unimpressed. It pounces and pins the lizard to the ground. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The lizard launches its extreme defense.
Texas horned lizards can really surprise predators when they squirt foul-tasting blood from their eyes.
As the coyote comes in to bite, the lizard straightens up and looks right at it. The coyote’s mouth is open and the lizard squirts a stream of nasty-tasting blood from its eyes right into the coyote’s mouth. This defense was adapted specifically to deter attacking coyotes.
Here’s how it works: A pocket behind the lizard’s eyes fills with blood. The lizard squeezes the pouch and squirts the blood. The blood contains chemicals that taste disgusting to predators.
The coyote recoils. It shakes its head, coughs, and rubs its muzzle on the ground. The lizard skitters to safety.
Whether they are using surprising hunting strategies, finding ways to live in dangerous environments, or avoiding being eaten, some animals rely on extreme adaptations to survive.