March 9, 2006Its silky white looks may make it seem more at
home in the Himalaya, but this unique creature was recently
discovered in the deep darkness of the South Pacific.
Michel Segonzac of the French Research Institute for the
Exploitation of the Sea found the small, blind crustacean last March during a deep-sea expedition some 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) south of Easter Island, which lies off the coast of Chile (map).
Divers using submersible vehicles were about a mile and a half (more than two and a quarter kilometers) below the surface when they spotted the animal near hydrothermal vents.
The creature, dubbed the "yeti crab," is so unusual that a whole new family of animal had to be created to classify it. Its official name is Kiwa hirsuta, and even after a year of study scientists say there's still much about it they don't understand.
One mystery is the purpose of the fine, hairlike filaments that coat the crab's arms and legs. The fibers trap bacteria, which the crab may use as food. But some scientists think the germs may filter out the toxic minerals that spew from the deep-sea vents.
Biologists with California's Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which organized the expedition, hope to return to search for more yeti crabs farther south, in the waters off Antarctica.
Blake de Pastino
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