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Abominable snowmen of the sea make their way to the Museum

The Museum’s first yeti crabs – so-called for their white bodies and hairy limbs – will soon be entered into the collection.

Yeti crabs, properly given the scientific genus name of Kiwa, were first discovered in 2005 living around hydrothermal vents – fissures in the sea floor that emit hot water and chemicals.

Two species were identified in the Pacific and now a third species has been described living around volcanic hydrothermal vents in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica. The first crabs of this new species will be deposited in the Museum’s collections for future scientific study.

Hairy heritage

While the first two identified species of crab have blonde bristles covering their forearms, leading to the popular moniker yeti crabs, the newest species instead has a hairy chest, earning it the nickname ‘Hoff crab’ after Baywatch star David Hasslehoff.

The first scientific description of the Hoff crab, published this week by researchers from the University of Southampton, reveals its proper scientific name: Kiwa tyleri, named in honour of deep-sea biologist Paul A Tyler.

Star specimens

The male and female Kiwa tyleri crabs described in the publication will soon be deposited in the Museum’s collection, where they will represent the ‘type specimens’; the defining specimens for the species. This will earn the jars of spirit alcohol in which they sit red-painted lids to symbolise their special status.

Museum higher invertebrates curator Miranda Lowe said she is excited to receive the Museum’s first yeti crabs. “They’re a whole new family to the crustacea collection, so I will have to clear a new shelf for them. They’re also a new genus and a new species, all in one!”

White Kiwa tyleri crabs cover a vent in the seafloor © Sven Thatje / NERC


Weird and wonderful

All the data associated with the crabs will be freely available in the Museum’s data portal and any scientists hoping to study the crabs can visit them in the collection. Already the team from the University of Southampton have uncovered some weird characteristics of these creatures.

Living in some of the remote habitats in the world, the yeti crabs appear to comb their hairy chests for bacteria that get energy from chemicals expelled by the vents. Males often live closer to the hot food source, whereas females and juveniles stay a little further away where it’s cooler. When the males and females come together in the middle for mating, there can be more than 700 individual crabs per square metre.