Abominable snowmen in the deep sea? Yeti crabs and their unlikely existence
The story begins
Legendary creatures can be found in every culture around the globe and have always been an immense source of dispute, especially among those that clam to have experienced one of the few ‘sightings’ of such creatures. The abominable snowman has always been a favorite of story tellers and was the inspiration for the name of the one of the latest discovers in deep sea fauna, Kiwa tyleri, aka the Yeti Crab.
Not getting enough sun?
This is in fact the very reason that the Yeti crabs are a very pale white, where their nickname comes from, as they reside in an environment that is completely void of sunlight. The lack of sunlight isn’t the only factor that makes the deep sea environment seem extreme to us; combined with the huge pressure, several hundred times that on the surface in some places and the chilling temperatures of only a degree or two above freezing it makes for one of the most hostile habitats on the planet. The likelihood of anything being able to survive down there was thought impossible until the mid 1800 when an investigation by James Clark Ross found huge amounts of life on the deep sea floor. Since then deep sea exploration has been an ever growing field of study and in 2005 the first species of yeti crab was discovered, with the third and latest only being discovered in 2015.
Things are heating up, or are they?
As I said before the deep sea in extremely cold, so how can anything survive down there? Well lots of the species that live in the deep have evolved ways of coping with these extreme temperatures and the yeti crab is no different. The areas that the yeti crabs can be found in are surrounding hydrothermal vents which kick out a lot of heat. All the yeti crabs congregate in the few meters around these hot spots, sometimes in their thousands, all trying to stay as warm as they can. However when the female as ready to lay their eggs they have to leave the warmth of the vents and travel further away as the higher temperatures are too much for the larvae to handle.
As there is no sunlight this deep in the ocean, the fauna of deep sea environments have developed unique methods of obtaining the necessary resources needed to survive. The Yeti crabs have come up with a unique method of acquiring their food, utilizing the bacteria that live in vast colonies across the surface of hydrothermal vents, a sort of living natural carpet! The crabs not only feed off this blanket of bacteria but actively encourage the bacteria to grow all over their bodies providing a self sustaining bank of food for the crabs. Recent studies of the crabs have found no indication that they have evolved unique structures to house these bacteria, which instead settle on hair like structures known as setae that cover almost their entire bodies. The yeti cards entice the bacteria to them by standing over the plumes of sulfides that are erupting from the the hydrothermal vents, providing them with a stable platform to access these minerals which they use to produce food. This symbiotic relationship works brilliantly, allowing both the bacteria and the crabs a constant supply of resources that would otherwise be extremely difficult to find!
So that’s interesting but so what?
Well you may think that but these little crustaceans could have a huge impact on us humans and the rest of the world as well! But before you start thinking so some sort of crabby invasion or apocalypse, they impact is a rather nice one. The ability to grow their own food and be completely self sustaining is being studied with the hope that we may be able to replicate something similar up on the surface. We may see in the future factories that grow similar bacteria that could be used as fodder for live stock or even as a primary source of food for ourselves. This could have a great impact as it would be a simple, cost effective way of feeding the worlds growing population without having to destroy ecosystems to make room for grazing pastures. I know the idea of eating a load of bacteria may seem like a strange concept but it is a long way off at the moment.