Ice Worm!

I never think of the Pacific Northwest as a home for very strange creatures. We have the expected animals, such as deer and squirrels and tweety birds. I’ve written about the mountain beaver (Aplodontia rufa), a rodent found only in the forests of Washington and Oregon. Today the snow ranger crew was out in the snow practicing avalanche rescue techniques and we observed iceworms. Very little is known about these animals. When I googled them, I was led to articles about iceworms in the glaciers of Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. But we were not on a glacier today. These iceworms were moving around the four foot deep snowpack at Snoqualmie Pass. This snow melts in the summer, so what happens to the worms?

They are segmented like earthworms, and up to two inches long. The ones I saw were black or very dark reddish-brown, easily mistaken for a dead fir needle. Until they move, which they can do quickly and dexterously. I watched one climb up the vertical wall of a pit we had dug to look at the snowpack. When I asked about how they live, I learned that nobody knows much about them. They live in the snowpack and eat microorganisms–snow is not as pure and sterile as we might think. The body heat from a person’s hand can cause them to melt. They are superbly adapted to winter, with a sort of antifreeze in their bodies.

How delightful to once again discover that we humans don’t know everything! Once again I am left with more questions than answers.

3 thoughts on “Ice Worm!

  1. Nice post about ice worms. 2 inches long is much larger than the ice worms I have seen on Cascade glaciers…(mostly 3/4 to 1 inch).
    Hey, why is it that your posts are all dated a day AHEAD of when you write them.? It isn’t January 7 yet.

  2. We were camping in the snow at Tachlach Lake by Mt. Adams and saw white worms in the snow melt. I’d say they were about an inch long. The snow melt was very cold and the warmer it got, like next to our campfire, they became extra active, squiggling and coiling around. Can’t seem to find a picture of them but this sounds like white ice worms to me. Would appreciate finding out.

  3. Ice worms! I’ll be darned! Never heard of them at all..! Fascinating!

    Here, in Maineiac land, I often see rather ordinary, & basically familiar, caterpillars of several different species on new fallen and unbroken snow; it appears that they come down with the snow, not live in it.

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