Antarctica Is Home to Newly Discovered Yeti Crab

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A new species was discovered in Antarctica, deep beneath the surface of the southern ocean, about 8,500 feet down lives Kiwa tyleri the newest member of the yeti crab family.  The crabs range in size from about six inches to less than an inch in length.

The crabs are part of a newly discovered family; the shaggy-armed creatures were first discovered in the Pacific Southwest in 2005. The Kiaw tyleria is one species of three in the family of yeti crabs. In 2010 scientist began searching for the yeti crab in the cold waters off of Antarctica. Using a remotely operated vehicle, scientist navigated the hydrothermal vents of East Scotia Ridge, where they discovered a flourishing community of yeti crabs.

Scientist knew almost immediately that they had found something unusual. Further investigation of the Antarctica crabs showed that they were a different species, according to a study published in PLOS ONE on June 24.

The K. tyleria crabs are able to live in much harsher condition than any of its relatives. The waters off of the East Scotia Ridge are usually slightly above freezing, but near the hydrothermal vents where the crabs make their home, the liquid that the vents release is extremely hot, and temperatures can sometimes reach over 700 degrees Fahrenheit. The water quickly cools away from the vents giving the crab a very small place to live. Too far away from the vents and the crabs will freeze, to close and the crabs will be cooked. Sven Thatje who led the study explains how the crabs manage to not only survive but also thrive in such conditions, the crabs cluster together, much more closely than the two other yeti crab species. He was able to watch them living in such a small place and discovered that the crabs make the most of the narrow space and are able to survive by living on top of each other, “like beans in a jar, filling every available space.” About 700 crabs can live in only 11 square feet.Antarctica

The newly discovered yeti crabs of the Antarctica differs from it relatives in other ways besides its environment. It has shorter more sturdy limbs in the front; it is also more rotund and solid than its cousins. Thatje believes this type of body structure makes it easier for the crab to position itself on the vents’ vertical surfaces. While the male crabs stay all warm and cozy near the vents, the team discovered that some female crabs leave the safe zone and venture into the colder water. Thatje theorizes that like other deep-sea creatures, the yeti crab’s larva needs cold temperatures to mature. The poor mothers pay for it, as the cold waters take a toll on them, resulting in a deterioration of their bodies, which most likely means that the females breed just once in their lifetime.

The animals are remarkable at adapting to the harsh environment in the Antarctica oceans, with no sun reaching the dark depths of water where the crabs live, to provide them with energy; they use the hair-like structures on their chest and limbs to attract food. The structures known as setae attract bacteria, which is the main source of food for the creatures. The hairy chest and arms has some calling the Antarctica crab the “Hoff crab” after David Hasselhoff, but Thatje and his team prefer the name K. tyleri. It was chosen to honor the works of an emeritus professor of the University of Southampton and a trailblazer in deep-sea research, Paul Tyler.

The discover of a new yeti crab in Antarctica once again shows how little scientist really know about newly discovered species. Thetje says that new species may be more widespread than previously thought. Andrew Thurber who is an ocean ecologist at Oregon State University called the discovery amazing, especially because up until a decade ago theses animal were not even known to exist. Thurber helped to describe the second known species of yeti crab, which lives in the water off of the coast of Costa Rica.

By Jessica Hamel


National Geographic: New Species: Hairy-Chested Yeti Crab Found in Antarctica

Science News: Newly Discovered Yeti Crab Swarms Around Antarctica Hydrothermal Vents

Mother Nature Network: Newly Discovered Yeti Crab Pile on to Survive

Photo Courtesy Ronald Woan’s Flickr Page- Creative Commons License

Photo Courtesy of micah craig’s Flickr Page-Creative Commons License