First-ever Antarctic Yeti Crab species discovered

Chuck Bednar for – @BednarChuck

A team of researchers led by Sven Thatje, an associate professor of marine evolutionary ecology at the University of Southampton, has discovered the first-ever species of Yeti Crab living in the hydrothermal vent systems of the East Scotia Ridge in the Southern Ocean.

The new creature, described in a paper published in Wednesday’s edition of the journal PLOS One, has been identified as Kiwa tyleri, and the authors state that it is a member of an enigmatic group of squat lobsters known as Kiwaidae. These creatures live and thrive in the warm waters surrounding deep-sea geothermally heated hydrothermal vents.

yeti crabs

Credit: Thatje et al

Kiwa tyleri is the dominant species at these locations, with densities of more than 700 specimens per square meter reported in some locations. With a body covered in dense bristles (also known as setae) and bacteria, it looks like a furry creature. This also allows the crab to harvest the dense bacterial mats that overgrow vent chimney surfaces.

Cold waters limit the crabs’ ability to travel

Thatje and his colleagues explain that the creature spends the majority of its life trapped in the warm waters of the vent chimney, unable to move from one vent site to another due to the cold, nearly-freezing temperatures of the water separating one vent from another.

Only egg-carrying females are known to leave the vent chimneys and travel into the deep polar season, and only to release their larvae, which normally would be unable to survive the warm conditions of the adult Yeti Crab habitat. Few crab and lobster species can be found in the polar seas, but hydrothermal vents offer them a warmer sanctuary.

In a statement emailed to redOrbit, Thatje said, “The Antarctic Yeti Crab is trapped in its warm-water hydrothermal vent site by the cold polar waters of the surrounding deep-sea. The species has adapted to this very limited sized habitat… by occurring in highly-packed densities and by relying on bacteria they grow on their fur-like setae for nutrition.”

Thatje added that the “engimatic” Kiwa tyleri was named in honor of Professor Paul Tyler, a “world-renowned British deep-sea and polar biologist” from the University of Southampton. Tyler specializes in the field of reproductive biology and has published numerous studies based on his work at the hydrothermal vents and cold seeps of Antarctica.


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