17 January 2012

Tuesday Crustie: Hot or not?

This shrimp is a new species that is mentioned in a new paper on a new hydrothermal vent community by Connelly and colleagues.

The Daily Mail recently ran this story on this discovery with the headline:

So how on Earth do you cook THIS? The shrimp that lives in water four times hotter than boiling point

Time for a classic facepalm.

I can see how this headline got cobbled together, but still... sigh. No. No, no, no, and again, no. These are not invulnerable super shrimp.

Time to become... a TRUTH VIGILANTE! Quick! To the Truthmobile!

ResearchBlogging.orgThe original paper the news story is based on makes no claim that the shrimp can tolerate super-hot temperatures. But it helpfully shows the change in water temperature as you descend into the sea in Figure 2. By the time you get to below 1000 m, the water temperature is only a couple of degrees above freezing. And these vents are almost 5,000 m down. It’s freakin’ cold down there – except where there are hot vents.

It’s like having a campfire in the winter.

According to the logic of this article, the person who took this picture should have been burned alive. Fires are hot! And the middle of the fire is hot and will burn you.

But step back a little ways, and you can be very cold. You have to find the sweet spot where the warmth from the fire is just counteracting the surrounding cold. (The optimal spot for your hot dogs and marshmallows is rather closer.)

The exact same thing happens at these hydrothermal vents. You have superhot water emerging from the vents, but it’s surrounded by very cold water under very high pressure. The shrimp have to do a constant dance to find just the right distance, darting in and out near the turbulent high temperature plumes to avoid getting cooked.

Oddly, the Daily Mail article gives the shrimp a name, Rimicaris hybisae, which is nowhere to be found in the scientific article in Nature Communications. I hope they have the paper describing this species accepted, because otherwise, these reports might end up jeopardizing the name.


Connelly D, Copley J, Murton B, Stansfield K, Tyler P, German C, Van Dover C, Amon D, Furlong M, Grindlay N, Hayman N, Hühnerbach V, Judge M, Le Bas T, McPhail S, Meier A, Nakamura K, Nye V, Pebody M, Pedersen R, Plouviez S, Sands C, Searle R, Stevenson P, Taws S, Wilcox S. 2012. Hydrothermal vent fields and chemosynthetic biota on the world's deepest seafloor spreading centre. Nature Communications 3: 620. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1636

Classic facepalm by Alex E. Proimos on Flickr; campfire photo by mismisimos on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

dosumis said...

The name appears to come from the press release: