The "yeti crab," discovered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, is so extraordinary that a new taxonomic family had to be invented for it.
The new species was found during a deep-sea dive expedition, some 900 miles (1,500 kilometers) off Easter Island.
Living next to hydrothermal vents at depths of 7,540 feet (2,300 meters), the blind white crustacean, named Kiwa hirsute, was also dubbed the yeti (or abominable snowman) crab because of its hairy arms, which support colonies of yellow bacteria.
Led by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in California, the dive team speculates that the animal may deliberately cultivate these bacteria for food or as tiny sensors that help the crab find food or a mate.
Other researchers suggest the crustacean could use the bacteria to combat toxic fluids that rise from the volcanic vents.
Mineral-eating bacteria thrive on deposits from the vents, says Chris German of the Southampton Oceanography Centre in England. "Show them a metal sulfide deposit on the seafloor and they think it's a six-course banquet," he joked.
"If you've got things that want to [eat toxic fluids], why not carry a bunch of them around with you if you're working in a hazardous environment," German added. "They could be your natural safeguards."
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Photograph by Ifremer/A. Fifis ©2006, Courtesy of the Census of Marine Life