A group of researchers has found the first species of white, hairy ‘Yeti crab’ in the hydro-thermal vent systems of the East Scotia Ridge, Antarctica. It has been named Kiwa tyleri after renowned British deep-sea biologist Paul Tyler. It lives in vast communities around hot vents in the sea floor, in extremely high densities of 700 crabs per meter.
Yeti crab has adopted to a limited size habitat
Sven Thatje of the University of Southampton and lead author of the study, said that the Antarctic Yeti crab is trapped in its warm-water hydro-thermal vent site by the cold polar waters in the surrounding sea. Three species of Yeti crabs are known, and now for the first time, the characteristics of K. tyleri has been described in the journal PLOS ONE.
Scientists first took images of this deep-sea crab in 2010 with the help of a remotely-operated submersible vehicle (ROV). The ROV also took a few specimens from 2,600 meters below the icy surface of Southern Ocean for further study. Yeti crab has adopted to a limited size “thermal envelope” of only a few square meters.
Yeti crab lives in extremely high temperatures
Yeti crab’s habitat contains chimney-like vents called ‘black smokers’ that have a temperature of up to 380 degrees Celsius, which is optimum for them. The water outside their habitat is cold, fluctuating between minus 1.3 to 0.5 degrees Celsius. The species can’t move between vent sites due to low temperature and the polar environment in between.
The Yeti crab’s body is densely covered with bristles called setae, which serve as a garden for bacteria to flourish. The species rely on bacteria growing on their fur-like setae for nutrition, said scientists. Their appearance allows them to harvest the dense bacterial mats growing on the surfaces of vent chimneys. Thatje said that further research was needed to understand how the heat-loving Yeti crab was able to colonize two vent systems separated by miles of cold water.