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.