Scientists have finally given a formal name to a hairy crab that was nicknamed "The Hoff," in reference to actor David Hasselhoff, when it was first discovered in the Antarctic waters. It will now be known as Kiwa tyleri after deep-sea and polar biologist professor Paul Tyler of the University of Southampton.
The yeti crab has three known species, and scientists have now described the characteristics of one of them. The Kiwa tyleri, which lives in hydrothermal vents on the sea floor, is the only species of yeti crab that thrive in the Southern Ocean off Antarctica.
"Here, we describe Kiwa tyleri sp. nov., the first species of yeti crab known from the Southern Ocean. Kiwa tyleri belongs to the family Kiwaidae and is the visually dominant macrofauna of two known vent sites situated on the northern and southern segments of the East Scotia Ridge (ESR)," the scientists reported in their study.
The creature belongs to a group of squat lobsters called Kiwaidae, which live in the hot waters that surround geothermally heated vents of the East Scotia Ridge in the Southern Ocean. The population of the species dominates at these sites with densities of over 700 specimens per square meter.
The Kiwa tyleri is characterized by a hairy body that allows it to harvest bacterial mats that overgrow on vent chimney surfaces. The Kiwa tyleri' depends on the chemosynthetic bacteria from these bacterial mats for food.
The Kiwa tyleri is stuck within its warm water environment, where temperature is about 25 degrees Celsius, for most of its life because of the low temperature of about zero degrees Celsius environment in between.
Some of the crabs brave the icy waters though. The females that carry eggs move into the surrounding cold deep sea to release larvae, which could not survive in the warmer waters. The mother yeti crabs often die after they are done brooding.
University of Southampton marine evolutionary ecology professor Sven Thatje, one of the authors that described the crab in a study published in the journal PLOS ONE on June 24, said that the females that move off the site do not feed so they starve. He also hypothesized that once the females leave the vents, they are no longer strong enough to return.
"Antarctic bottom-water is the coldest seawater you can have. Generally, there are very few crabs and lobsters in the Southern Ocean. And so Kiwa tyleri is essentially trapped in this very narrow envelope," Thatje said. "That is the fascinating aspect of this species."