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7 Animals That Live Near Volcanoes

Extinct volcanoes have not erupted for thousands of years and are not expected to become active. Animals that live near volcanoes do so due to the lack of predators and nutrient-rich soil. Also, since most active and dormant volcanoes are located on islands or underwater, many animals that call a volcano their home are semi-terrestrial or aquatic animals.

The following list of animals shows you 7 examples of species that have adapted to life in and near volcanoes.

7 Animals That Live Near Volcanoes

1. Lesser Flamingo

Lesser flamingo on shallow water
Lesser flamingo on shallow water | Image by Bishnu Sarangi from Pixabay

Around the Ol Donyo Lengai volcano in Tanzania live over two million lesser flamingos. Their feathers are mostly pink in color due to constantly dining on their favorite food, a pigmented algae called spirulina. Beneath Ol Donyo Lengai lies a highly alkaline body of water called Lake Natron that is inhospitable to humans, plants, and animals.

However, the lesser flamingos have evolved a tough, scaly layer of skin over their legs to prevent lake water from burning their skin. In addition, lesser flamingos can drink almost boiling water without harming themselves and have tiny organelles in their nasal cavities that filter out salt from water.

2. Vampire Ground Finch

A Galapagos volcanic island called Wolf is dry and hot, offering minimal water and food resources for the few animals that live there. However, the population of vampire ground finches thinks this is the greatest place on Earth to live! Of course, behavioral adaptations help them call this hostile place home.

For example, in addition to eating cactus nectar and bird eggs, vampire ground finches also feast on the blood of booby seabirds. When booby seabirds roost on Wolf Island, the vampire finches flock around them to pick off and eat parasites underneath the booby seabirds’ feathers.

Although the boobies may think the finches are doing them a favor, what the boobies don’t know is that the finches are secretly poking through their skin to sip nutritious booby blood. This is why vampire finches have evolved sharply pointed, larger-than-average beaks.

3. The Fish of Death

Opihi in shoreline
Opihi in shoreline | image by Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument via Flickr

Home to two active volcanoes–Mauna Loa and Kilauea–the Hawaiian Volcanoes National Park also harbors a much-coveted Hawaiian delicacy called Opihi. An aquatic snail with strong “feet” and a cone-shaped shell, the Hawaiian Blackfoot limpet adheres itself to rocks with this foot so firmly that hundreds of Opihi divers have drowned trying to pry the snail off rocks. Hence, the name “fish of death”.

4. Galapagos Yellow Land Iguana

Galapagos yellow land iguana
Galapagos yellow land iguana | image by kuhnmi via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Fernandina Island is the most active of all the Galapagos volcanoes, erupting as recently as 1995 and 2005. Although uninhabited by humans, Fernandina Island has a thriving population of endangered species, such as sea lions, penguins, and flightless birds called cormorants. The Galapagos Yellow Land Iguana is also endangered but now under the protection of the Galapagos Conservancy.

The Yellow Land Iguana and other Galapagos iguanas have evolved an amazing detection system that allows them to sense potential volcanic activity before an eruption occurs. This gives the iguanas time to scurry down the sides of the volcano to safer ground.

They are strict carnivores that eat carrion, centipedes, and any other protein-rich meat they can find. Yellow Land Iguanas keep themselves hydrated by consuming prickly-pear cacti and drinking rainwater that accumulates in pools during the rainy season.

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5. Martinique Volcanic Frog

An active volcano on the French island of Martinique, Mount Pelee erupted in 1902, killing hundreds of thousands of people and nearly destroying the island. Thirty years later, Mt. Pelee erupted again in 1932. Although this eruption was bad, it wasn’t nearly as destructive as the 1902 eruption.

Two huge eruptions didn’t stop the Martinique Volcanic frog from hunkering down and surviving in deep crevices found high on the mountain. Unfortunately, climate change events occurring at the lower levels of Mt. Pelee have put this frog on the endangered species list. Forced to live in higher areas of Mt. Pelee where more food is available, the Martinique Volcanic frog is now rarely seen and believed to be on the verge of extinction.

6. Volcanic Giant Tube Worm

Giant tube worms on sea floor
Giant tube worms on sea floor | image by NOAA Photo Library via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Miles under the surface of the sea where some of the strangest creatures exist, you’ll find volcanic giant tube worms flourishing where incredibly hot water flows up from cracks fragmenting the sea floor. This superheated water also contains minerals that provide food for weird animals that live near volcanoes–like the giant tube worm.

Giant tube worms have specialized bacteria living in their intestines that turn superheated minerals into energy. Their only vulnerability to predators is long, crimson gills that extend upward and flutter in the water like a fishing lure.

Fortunately, if they sense predators are near, giant tube worms can expeditiously retract these colorful gills before they are grabbed by hungry crustaceans. Giant tube worms can’t survive unless volcanic activity continues under the vents on the sea floor.

If a vent is inactive for too long, the giant tube worm colony living around the vent will die. However, if colony members manage to discover another hot spot nearby, they will migrate to that vent and build up their colony once again.

7. Pompeii Worm

Instead of living near undersea volcanic vents, the Pompeii worm lives inside these vents. Marine biologists believe Pompeii worms are the most heat-tolerant extremophile known to exist. These complex worms thrive in temperatures above 220 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although it’s not fully understood how Pompeii worms survive in such a hostile environment, biologists think that tiny hairs (which are actually thermophilic bacteria) covering the worm’s body protect them from the harsh elements inside a volcanic vent. Like turtles, the body of the Pompeii worm allows for retraction of its head to protect the head when it emerges to breathe and eat.

What are volcanoes?

About 100 miles below the Earth’s surface, huge slabs of rocks called tectonic plates shift enough to cause a magma (volcanic) eruption. Magma is molten rock below the Earth’s surface. When tectonic plates move, they may leave an opening through which magma erupts.

Lava is the term for the liquid rock that flows out of erupting volcanoes. Active volcanoes have erupted in the recent past and are expected by geophysicists to erupt again. Dormant volcanoes have not erupted recently but could erupt at any time.

What are Andisols (Black Soil)?

Soil developing from volcanic ash contains rich amounts of glass, allophane, and other elements that can retain large amounts of water molecules. The relative freshness of andisols further increases the fertile quality of the soil. Andean forest and mountainous wetland people in South America especially rely on andisols for both food and livestock cultivation.