Silent witnesses

How geochemistry tells about climate and environments

Extreme Shrimp May Hold Clues to Alien Life

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Emma Versteegh

Shrimp called Rimicaris hybisae at deep hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean seem to have different dietary habits depending on the proximity of other shrimp. Those who live in dense clusters like this one live off bacteria primarily, but in areas where the shrimp are distributed more sparsely, the shrimp are more likely to turn carnivorous, and even eat each other. Credit: Courtesy Chris German, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason ©2012 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Shrimp called Rimicaris hybisae at deep hydrothermal vents in the Caribbean seem to have different dietary habits depending on the proximity of other shrimp. Those who live in dense clusters like this one live off bacteria primarily, but in areas where the shrimp are distributed more sparsely, the shrimp are more likely to turn carnivorous, and even eat each other. Credit: Courtesy Chris German, WHOI/NSF, NASA/ROV Jason ©2012 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

At one of the world’s deepest undersea hydrothermal vents, tiny shrimp are piled on top of each other, layer upon layer, crawling on rock chimneys that spew hot water. Bacteria, inside the shrimps’ mouths and in specially evolved gill covers, produce organic matter that feed the crustaceans.

Scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, are studying this mysterious ecosystem in the Caribbean to get clues about what life could be like on other planetary bodies…

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