Living without sunlight

The first life able to exist without energy from sunlight was discovered around a black smoker vent. Before then, scientists believed life in the dark deep ocean survived by eating food scraps that had fallen from shallower waters.

More than 300 species of shrimp, clams, predatory anemones and others live around vents – many unique – with around 35 new species discovered each year. All rely for food on mats of white bacteria, which use poisonous hydrogen sulphide from vent water as fuel to convert carbon dioxide and water into edible carbohydrates.

Some species, such as vent worms, have bacteria living in their bodies. These bacteria take the place of plants on the Earth’s surface. When the vent cools, tiny organisms can also eat the iron and sulphur inside the chimneys.