One of the most surprising facts about Earth scientists have found at the Danakil Depression – and in other areas with very hot hydrothermal vents, where chemical-rich fluid escapes to the Earth’s surface – is that specialised organisms call them home. When this happens deep under the ocean, especially, where sunlight can’t penetrate to allow photosynthesis, microbes use chemosynthetic processes to create organic matter out of hydrogen sulfide, methane, and other chemicals. Tubeworms and other animals that live near the vents often host these microbes on or in their bodies.
Largest single organism
Scientists have been surprised by other forms of life over the past few decades as well – particularly the Armillaria fungus, a mushroom that’s proved to be a gigantic wonder. A scientist in Michigan found one in the early 1990s that turned out to weigh almost 10 tonnes and extend out 15 hectares; when scientists started hunting competitively for more giant Armillaria, an Oregon sample was found that covered more than 970 hectares. Researchers estimate its age at 8,650 years old. This particular fungus gets so big (and evades notice so effectively) because it grows root-like structures called rhizomorphs that extend underground for miles. It grows up into trees from below, and as a result, can kill large swaths of forest, biologist László Nagy, of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, told The Atlantic. “You can basically see entire hills wiped out,” he said.
Another example of life showing up where you least expect it is when living creatures fall from the sky in a storm – and yes, this really happens. “Frog and toad rains, fish rains, and coloured rains – most often red, yellow or black – are among the most common accounts of strange rain, reported since ancient times,” Cynthia Barnett writes in her book, Rain: A Natural and Cultural History. Scientists believe that a waterspout or tornado picks up the animals, dust, or other items in one place, and they get blown by the storm to another location where they fall. John Knox, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Georgia, told Smithsonian Magazine that he’s seen photographs that fell back to earth 322 kilometres from where they were picked up by tornadoes. Find out 45 amazing facts about your favourite animals.