Meet the glacier ice worms of the Pacific Northwest mountains : Short Wave Inside the mountaintop glaciers of the Pacific Northwest lives a mysterious, and often, overlooked creature. They're small, black, thread-like worms that wiggle through snow and ice. That's right, ice worms! Little is known about them. But one thing scientists are sure of? They can't really handle freezing temperatures. In this episode, NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce talks to Emily about how ice worms survive in an extreme environment and why scientists don't understand some of the most basic facts about them.

Meet the mysterious ice worms that live in mountaintop glaciers

Meet the mysterious ice worms that live in mountaintop glaciers

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Biologist Peter Wimberger holds an ice worm in the snow. Nell Greenfieldboyce/NPR hide caption

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Nell Greenfieldboyce/NPR

Biologist Peter Wimberger holds an ice worm in the snow.

Nell Greenfieldboyce/NPR

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Inside the mountaintop glaciers of the Pacific Northwest lives a mysterious, and often, overlooked creature. They're small, black, thread-like worms that wiggle through snow and ice. That's right, ice worms!

NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce says researchers like Peter Wimberger, a biologist at the University of Puget Sound, once thought they were not even real. "He told me he, like a lot of people, used to think that ice worms were fictional, like, a joke that people might play. And so a while back when one of his students said that he wanted to study ice worms, Wimberger thought it was a prank."

To learn more about them, Nell trudged up Mount Rainier in Washington state with some ice worm researchers. During breaks, she would ask questions about the ice worms. Turns out, the answer to most questions about these critters is, "Who knows?"

One known fact about these glacial inhabitants? They can't handle freezing temperatures.

So today, Nell talks to Short Wave host Emily Kwong about how ice worms survive in an extreme environment and why scientists don't understand some of the most basic facts about them.

Check out more of Nell's reporting on ice worms.

Curious about other mountaintop dwellers? Email us at shortwave@npr.org.

This episode was produced by Thomas Lu, edited by Gisele Grayson and Viet Le, and fact-checked by Indi Khera. The audio engineer for this episode was Josh Newell.