What Is the Yeti Crab’s Scientific Name?
Yeti might sound like a strange name for a crab. Once you see a Yeti crab, though, you may think differently. That’s because the crab’s arms and legs are covered in hair! In fact, the Yeti crab’s scientific name is Kiwa hirsuta which comes from the Latin word for shaggy.
Not only does the Yeti crab represent a new species—this discovery is of a whole new family of crabs. It’s the first new deep sea crab family found in over a hundred years. Scientists have named the new family Kiwaidae. Fittingly, that name came from a Polynesian goddess of shellfish named Kiwa.
The yeti crab is a ‘squat lobster’, which is more closely related to crabs, than true lobsters. Known as chelipeds, the yeti crab claws are symmetrical. They are also as long as the carapace and all but the fingers are covered in fine hair.
Where does the Yeti crab live? The first one was found in 2005 on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, near Easter Island. Since then, scientists have spotted more Yeti crabs living about 7,200 feet (2,2200 meters) below the ocean’s surface. Most often, they live near areas where warm water is flowing out of the seafloor.
In these warm areas, the water can reach 720°F (380°C). The warm water vents seem to play an important role in the Yeti crabs’ lives (besides keeping them warm!). Scientists have observed the crabs holding their hairy arms over the vent openings. By doing so, they catch bacteria from the vents in their thick bristles.
What do Yeti crabs do with these bacteria? Experts think the crabs let the bacteria grow in their hairs and then eat them. In that way, some say that Yeti crabs “farm” their own food by growing the bacteria and then harvesting them when they’re ready to eat. The bacteria on the hairy claws of the yeti crab may serve another purpose beyond acting as a food source.
Scientists point to the high concentration of bacteria on the hairy claws as potentially being used to detoxify the poisonous materials that exist in the water coming from the hydrothermal vents. Bacteria isn’t the only thing on the menu for Yeti crabs, though. Scientists have also seen the animals feeding on mussels from the seafloor.
Since the first Yeti crab was discovered in 2005, two other species in the Kiwaidae family have been found. Both share Kiwa hirsuta’s hairy arms and love of the deep sea. They live as far south as the waters of the South Ocean near Antarctica. The extreme cold temperatures of the deep sea would kill the yeti crab, so the warmer hydrothermal vents create the habitat that sustains them.