The legend of the Yeti has been told throughout different generations, passed down in stories and more recently media report which are largely speculated to be false or fake. However what if the Yeti was actually real, but instead of being a humanoid goliath, it was in fact a crab.

Meet the myth

Kiwaidae are a family with currently three known species of yeti crabs, they got their name from having a bleach white appearance as they are found at depths below 2000+ metres and have a fur like appearance covering their body. This “fur” on the crabs body is actually setae which the yeti crabs use for feeding. The three different species have been identified as Kiwa hirusta, Kiwa puravida and Kiwa tyleri , these species are located around hydrothermal vents which are the life blood for most deep sea species, as it provides all the resources which life needs to survive in this habitat. These species where highly elusive to since and were first discovered in 2005 and most recently in 2010. These organisms are commonly known as yeti crabs however all of the organisms within this family are actually squat lobsters however they shall be referred to as yeti crabs throughout.

Yeti crab sample with clearly visible setae – Kiwa hirsuta

The Habitat

Hydrothermal vents are a unique geological structure which can be found sparsely across the barren wasteland of the abyssal plain. They are created via movement from the planets tectonic plates which can be found to occur along fault line and cracks in the earth’s surface. The two separate plates move towards or pull away from each other causing the contents of the earths crust (magma) to flow to contact range of the water. With the water contacting the magma, it gets super heated releasing the water from these underwater crevices and forcing it out of the top of the rightfully names chimneys, which can occur in two forms these are white smokers and black smokers depending on the mineral contents of the water.

Graphical depiction of the ocean in relation to hydrothermal vents

Other conditions which effect life down at these depths is that any form of sun light cannot reach so far down meaning that the zone is in complete darkness. Making it so no photosynthesis can occur meaning that energy needs to come from other forms. The high hydro-static pressure is another factor making the environment so extreme, when combined with the high concentrations of toxic minerals flowing from the vents it seems rather uninhabitable. Organisms are able to inhabit this environment due to a special relationship they share with some bacteria.

Bacterial buddies

The setae on the yeti crabs provides a large surface area for the chemo-synthetic bacteria to inhabit, this bacteria uses the chemicals such as hydrogen sulphide, which are produced from the super-heating of the water. In combination with dissolved carbon dioxide and water to produce sugars for the organism, in turn the yeti crabs inhabit areas close to the vents allowing the bacteria to produce as much as possible, to ensure long term survival. Different tests have been run to find out as much as possible about these different species whenever samples where available, an example of such test would be on Kiwa puravida an Isotope and lipid analysis which was aimed at finding out the primary food sauce was for these yeti crabs, this test relieved that the bacteria which co-existed with these yeti crabs are the primary source of energy. The yeti crabs are able to harvest the “farmed” bacteria due to specially adapted claws these have special setae on them which allow for easier extraction of the bacteria. In research it has been discovered that the yeti crabs “dance” around the hydrothermal vents, the swinging motion of the claws is largely speculated to be to increase the water flow through the setae on the claws allowing for a larger sulphide absorption from the bacteria thus increasing the food supply for the crabs.

With this discovery still being fresh within the scientific community it shows that such a vast ocean has a large number of species, locations and other possible unknowns to be discovered. Only one can speculate the wonders in which are still to be discovered from the alien world below the surface. These extreme environments provide a large challenge for scientists and explorers due to the inaccessibility and harsh condition but with advancing technology and science new methods are being developed constantly, meaning exploration will be able to occur at a larger rate in the future (depending on financial status).

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