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How a blind, bristled, heat-loving yeti crab thrives in Antarctica

The Kiwa tyleri is the first species of yeti crab to be found living in the Southern Ocean.

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    This photo shows male and female specimens of Kiwa tyleri, a species of yeti crab found living in hydrothermal vents in Antarctica.
    Courtesy of Thatje et al.
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A species of warm-water-loving yeti crab has been discovered in one of the coldest places on Earth.

Researchers from the University of Southampton in England have discovered thriving communities of these blind and bristly critters in warm hydrothermal vents in Antarctica, according to a new paper published in the open-source journal PLOS ONE.

The Kiwa tyleri, as this particular yeti crab is known, is only the third known species of yeti crab. It’s cousin Kiwa hirsuta was first discovered in a hydrothermal vent in the southern Pacific Ocean in 2005. And Kiwa puravida was discovered living in a cold seep off the coast of Costa Rica in 2006.

The newest species is the first to be found in the Southern Ocean, which is largely uninhabitable for such crustaceans due to polar temperatures.

“Crabs and lobsters are very rare in Antarctic/Southern Ocean waters because of the unusually low seawater temperatures,” Sven Thatje, lead author of the report and associate professor of marine evolutionary ecology at the University of Southampton told Live Science.

The hydrothermal vents, however offer an oasis of warmth for these critters. These vents make such habitable environments that researchers found 700 individuals per square meter, making them the dominant species at these sites.

Antarctica’s hydrothermal vents are some of the most isolated environments on Earth. The surrounding water temperatures hover around or even below freezing. Still some females do leave the warmth of the vents to brood eggs away from the sulfur-rich emissions of the vent, Professor Thatje told Live Science.

Like all yeti crabs, the Antarctic variety hosts bacteria in its bristle fur. Unlike its relatives however, that fur extends over the chest, leading some researchers to nickname the newly discovered species the “Hoff crab” after the notoriously hairy-chested actor of “Baywatch” fame David Hasselhoff, according to Live Science.

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