What came first, the Iceworm or the festival?

Believe it or not, Iceworms are real ice-dwelling creatures! They existed long before our beloved festival. In fact, they were first discovered in the 1800's by Dr. G. F. Wright on Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay. They live as far south as Washington, and can be found in Southeast and South Central Alaska.
 

 Photo credit - S.E. Gould - American Scientific

Photo credit - S.E. Gould - American Scientific

So, what IS it?

We are going to stick to what we do best, and leave the scientific info to the pros. 
Check out the below information from  the  Alaska Public Land's Information Center. Click here to read more!

A member of the segmented worms, the annelids, ice worms are related to common earthworms and leeches. The iceworm (Mesenchytraeus solifugus) is a small, slim worm, one to three centimeters long, and dark brown or black in color. It resembles a miniature earthworm. Surprising as it seems, iceworms live quite successfully in glaciers and adjacent perennial snowfields all year. Populations of iceworms can survive and thrive at temperatures around 32 degrees Fahrenheit, zero degrees Celsius. This might seem impossible, but actually the tissue in animal cells does not freeze at the same temperature as water. Most animals would die long before reaching this temperature.... On the other hand, higher temperatures are harmful to iceworms. When heated to about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the worms melt and die.

How do they survive?

Here are a couple of fun facts from our friends over at the Chugach National Forest Glacier Ranger District:

What do they eat? What eats them? Ice worms eat red algae, which grows on glacial snowpacks. IT is also believed that they might forage on pollen grains blown onto the glacier and snowpack by the wind. Since Iceworms are a part of some glacial ecosystems, which include other (mostly microscopic) organisms, it is probable that they feed upon the organic remans of these creatures. They, in turn, may occasionally be preyed upon by birds, like the snow bunting.

But how can I find them?

While warmth from the sun or a humans touch can kill an Iceworm, they still seem to be attracted to the summer warmth!

Consequently, the relative warmth during the summer months brings them to the surface of the glacier, while the relative warmth of the glacial ice (compared to the winter temperature) keeps them burrowed during the winter months. Thus, unbelievable as it may seem, ice worms may never be threatened with freezing or scorching if they stay within the glacial ice or overlying snow. In the summer they are active in the evening and early morning... They can be found in a variety of glacial habitats, including slushy snow, blue ice, and pools of water. Ice worms can occasionally be found under rocks or down a few inches in the condensed snow atop glaciers during sunny daylight hours. 

On a great day in the middle of winter, Iceworms have been known to frequent the Sheridan Glacier, an easy to access location for those in Cordova! Check out this great video to learn more about our funny little friends.