It goes without saying that Antarctica is not a very forgiving place, and as such researchers don’t expect to find a ton of completely unknown species there. Insects and microbes, sure, but nothing large like a bear. However, researchers from the University of Southampton have done just that, discovering the first species of Yeti Crab to live in the waters surrounding Antarctica.
The researchers named the new species Kiwa tyleri after world-renowned British deep-sea and polar biologist Professor Paul Tyler, also from the University of Southampton.
Yeti Crabs get their name for their outer shells, which appear to be covered in hair-like bristles and bacteria. As it turns out, those bacteria are important, for the Yeti Crab actually harvests them as a food source.
All species of Yeti Crabs share similar characteristics, including habitat: They’re found exclusively around hydrothermal vents, where the naturally-heated water is significantly warmer than the surrounding sea. Because adult Yeti Crabs cannot survive in the cooler water, they’ve become very accommodating of one another: They’ll pack as many as 700 specimens into a cubic meter, with the females only venturing into cooler waters to release their larvae, which cannot survive the warmer temperatures.
“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 – of a few cubique metres in volume – by living in highly-packed densities and by relying on bacteria they grow on their fur-like setae for nutrition,” said lead author Dr Sven Thatje from the University of Southampton.
That’s especially true for Kiwa tyleri, as the water spewing from its vent chimneys can be as warm as 25 degrees Celsius, while the surrounding Southern Ocean is a chilly 0 degrees Celsius.
The other two species of Yeti Crabs, Kiwa hirsuta and Kiwa puravida, were discovered in 2005 and 2006, respectively.