A new species of yeti crab, only the third known to science, was discovered for the first time in the cold waters of Antarctica, living in a harsher environment and clustered more closely together than its relatives.
White, hairy Kiwa tyleri, ranging in size from under an inch to 6 inches, were found living on top of each “like beans in a jar” in 8,500-feet of water near hydrothermal vents of the East Scotia Ridge, according to a study released Wednesday by PLOS ONE, and chronicled by National Geographic.
“We knew immediately that we’d found something tremendously novel and unique in hydrothermal vent research,” Sven Thatje, the study leader from the University of Southampton in the U.K., told National Geographic.
The living arrangements are nothing like those of the yeti crabs first discovered in 2005 (Kiwa hirsuta) and 2006 (Kiwa puravida). National Geographic explains what it called the Goldilocks Zone:
Waters near East Scotia Ridge are generally just above freezing. However, the liquid spewing out of the vents themselves is superhot, and can exceed 700 degrees Fahrenheit (about 400 degrees Celsius).
Because the water cools rapidly away from the vents, K. tyleri has only a tiny, Goldilocks-like space in which it can survive. Too close to the vent and they fry. Too far away and they freeze.
As a result, Thatje says the Antarctic yetis cluster together much more closely than the other two known species. He observed them on top of one another, “like beans in a jar, filling every available space”—some 700 specimens per 11 square feet (a square meter).
Andrew Thurber, an ocean ecologist from Oregon State, called the Antarctic yeti crab “a really amazing discovery,” especially since nobody knew these animals existed a decade ago.
“It just identifies how little we still know,” Thurber told National Geographic, “and how some of these new species may be much more widespread than we thought.”
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