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What is a yeti crab? © Alamy
© Alamy

What is a yeti crab?

Published: 29th May, 2022 at 18:00
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This squat lobster can be found hanging out at deep-sea hydrothermal vents and cold seeps.

If a furry snow boot and a crab fell in love and had babies, this is what they would look like. Yeti crabs, which have ghostly carapaces and hair-like bristles on their legs and claws, hang out in the deep ocean next to hydrothermal vents and cold seeps. In 2005, when scientists discovered the yeti crab living on the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge, they realised they had stumbled not only on a new species but also a whole new family, later dubbed Kiwaidae.

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A year later, a second species was discovered wafting its arms over a methane-belching cold seep. It’s thought the bizarre dance helps to nourish colonies of bacteria, which it grows on its arms. The movement stirs up the water, bathing the bacteria in fresh supplies of oxygen and nutrients. They are then eaten by the crab, which uses comb-like mouthparts to harvest the bacteria from its bristly limbs.

There’s another species of yeti crab, discovered in 2010, which lives on hydrothermal vents in Antarctica. Despite bearing literally no resemblance to cheesy crooner David Hasselhoff, it has tenuously been dubbed the ‘Hoff crab’ because scientists decided that the hairs on its exoskeleton resemble those on the Hoff’s chest. They don’t.

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Authors

Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.

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