‘Worms From Hell’ Found 2.2 Miles Beneath the Earth

There is life 2.2 miles beneath the earth, say scientists Gaetan Borgonie of the University of Ghent in Belgium and Tullis Onstott of Princeton University. In an article the appeared last week in Nature, Borgonia and Onstott describe their discovery of the new “devil worms,” a new nematode species, called Halicephalobus mephisto partly after Mephistopheles, the demon of the legend of Dr. Faustus. The 0.5 millimeter worms were found in water coming out of a borehole about a mile below the surface in the South African Beatrix gold mine.

Nematodes have been been found dozens of feet below the ground, but, as National Geographic notes, only microbes were thought to exist so deep down. As it turns out, such microbes are the food of the nematodes.

The discovery of the worms — of creatures who have nervous, digestive and reproductive systems — holds fascinating implications in the study of microbial life known as extremophiles, which live in places thought uninhabitable. Says Onstott in the Washington Post:

“This is telling us something brand new…. For a relatively complex creature like a nematode to penetrate that deep is simply remarkable.”

Indeed, Onstatt compares finding the nematodes to “finding a whale in Lake Ontario.”

National Geographic describes how the sub-sub-subterranean creatures were found:

…Borgonie spent a year boring deep into mines for veins of water, retrieving samples and filtering them for water-dwelling nematodes. He scoured a total of 8,343 gallons (31,582 liters) until he finally found the worm in several deep-rock samples.

What’s more, the team found evidence the worms have been there for thousands of years. Isotope dating of the water housing the worm placed it to between 3,000 and 12,000 years ago—indicating the animals had evolved to survive the crushing pressure and high heat of the depths.

As the Washington Post points out, the discovery of the worms could potentially teach us about life on other planets, like Mars:

Scientists seeking life beyond Earth are intrigued by the possibility that microbes could be living below the surface of Mars, in particular — a planet that is now cold, dry and bombarded by harmful radiation but was once much wetter, warmer and better-protected by an atmosphere.

“What we found shows that harsh conditions do not necessarily exclude complexity,” Borgonie said.

He said that if life did originate on Mars and if it had sufficient time to go underground deep enough to survive worsening conditions, “then evolution of Martian life might have continued underground. … Life on Mars could be more complex than we imagined.”

Or as Onstott says, as we continue the search for extraterrestrial life, we have to look not only at what’s on the surface of other planets, but what is below it:

“We can’t negate the thought of looking for little green worms as opposed to little green microbes.”


Photo of a nematode/roundworm by  Josh Grosse via Wikipedia.

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Jonjon Hoy
Jonjon Hoy3 years ago

That pic looks like a microscopic image instead of an actual earthworm.

Amen Justin R.

dianna Inscoe
di inscoe3 years ago

great! earthworms are so valluable to the natural balance of nature

Susan Griffiths
Susan Griffiths3 years ago

Very interesting.

Carla Manning
Carla Manning4 years ago

that's funny and true Russell R.

Roxane Connor
Roxane Connor4 years ago

Oh, I can see the movie now . Demon worms take over the bodies of subterranean miners and scientist eventually getting into the space program( It doesn't have to make sense as long as the graphics are cool)to bring back the invading force from mars.

Maarja L.
Maarja L.4 years ago

This is quite interesting... life really is amazing.

Anja N.
Justin R.4 years ago

An irritating headline.
Hell is in your head and heart, not below!

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal4 years ago

Sci-fi here we come.

Brigid C.
Brigid C.4 years ago

doesn't sound like a very complimentary title. Who are we to call them from hell. Are they just amother species to dissect, eat, destroy?

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

very interesting but i definately feel that before we go looking for life forms on OTHER planets (which in the end we'd probably destroy) we should instead try saving our own planet