Hairy crab lounges deep in the Pacific

A newly discovered deep-sea creature has the body of a crab—except with long, fluffy, blonde hair covering its legs.

DEEP BLONDE. A creature from the southeast Pacific is not just a new species. It’s in a new genus and family. © Ifremer/A. Fifis

It lives some 2,200 meters deep in the southeast Pacific near hydrothermal vents, says Joe Jones of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California. The hair is so heavily infested with as-yet-unidentified bacteria that Jones and his colleagues speculate that the microbes are metabolizing compounds from the vents and providing energy for the crab.

That feeding strategy could explain why the crabs sometimes sit with their legs extending into the warm water leaking near vents. Living off dirty-blonde body hair isn’t these crabs’ only option. Researchers saw them feast on mussels that the submersible cracked open when landing.

The crabs don’t have eyes so it’s also possible that the hairs work as sensors.

Jones and his colleagues first spotted the 15-centimeter-long species last year when taking the research submersible Alvin down to new lava fields south of Easter Island. They collected one sample crab. In the winter issue of Zoosystema, the researchers formally name it Kiwa hirsuta. The crab merits not only a new species and genus but also a new family among the crustaceans called squat lobsters. Because it reminds them of the fabled, hairy abominable snowman, researchers informally refer to the creature as the Yeti crab.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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