Meet the Yeti crab using heat from geothermal vents to stay alive at the bottom of the icy Southern Ocean

The Antarctic Yeti Crab. Image: Sven Thatje and colleagues.

A Yeti crab has been discovered in the icy Southern Ocean living around warm geothermal vents deep underwater in the Antarctic.

The unique creatures have adapted to thrive in otherwise icy temperatures and are covered in a fur-like coating of bristles used to harvest bacteria for food.

The discovery has been announced by Sven Thatje from University of Southampton and colleagues in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

The crab belongs to a group of squat lobsters, known as Kiwaidae, which thrive in the hot waters surrounding geothermally heated vents.

It has been named Kiwa tyleri after world-renowned British deep-sea and polar biologist Professor Paul Tyler from the University of Southampton.

Its body is densely covered in bristles, known as setae, which allows the crab harvest dense bacterial mats which overgrow the surfaces of vent chimneys.

Dr Sven Thatje says:

β€œThe 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 cubic metres in volume – by occurring in highly-packed densities and by relying on bacteria they grow on their fur-like setae for nutrition.”

For most of its life, Kiwatyleri is trapped within the warm water environment of the vent chimney and is unable move between vent sites due to the nearly freezing water in between.

Females carrying eggs only move away from vent chimneys to release larvae which wouldn’t survive the warmer temperatures of the vent habitat.

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