Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Viktor. Viktor Wonders, “What is a yeti crab?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Viktor!

For years, people have scoured the wilderness for a large, hairy creature. They’ve searched the mountains of India, Nepal, and Russia. They’ve studied footprints, donned night-vision goggles, and lain in wait with cameras at the ready. What are they looking for? The Yeti, of course!

What if all these people have been looking in the wrong place? They’ve searched the highest mountains and thickest forests. But perhaps they should have been setting their sights to the depths of the ocean. After all, that’s where scientists have found the elusive Yeti’s namesake—the Yeti crab.

“Yeti” might sound like a strange name for a crab. Once you see a Yeti crab, though, you may think differently. That’s because the crab’s arms and legs are covered in hair! In fact, the Yeti crab’s scientific name is Kiwa hirsuta. “Hirsuta” comes from the Latin word for “shaggy.”

Not only does the Yeti crab represent a new species—this discovery is of a whole new family of crabs. It’s the first new deep-sea crab family found in over a hundred years. Scientists have named the new family Kiwaidae. Fittingly, that name came from a Polynesian goddess of shellfish named Kiwa.

Where does the Yeti crab live? The first one was found in 2005 on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, near Easter Island. Since then, scientists have spotted more Yeti crabs living about 7,200 feet (2,2200 meters) below the ocean’s surface. Most often, they live near areas where warm water is flowing out of the seafloor.

In these warm areas, the water can reach 720°F (380°C). The warm water vents seem to play an important role in the Yeti crabs’ lives (besides keeping them warm!). Scientists have observed the crabs holding their hairy arms over the vent openings. By doing so, they catch bacteria from the vents in their thick bristles

What do Yeti crabs do with these bacteria? Experts think the crabs let the bacteria grow in their hairs and then eat them. In that way, some say that Yeti crabs “farm” their own food by growing the bacteria and then harvesting them when they’re ready to eat. Bacteria isn’t the only thing on the menu for Yeti crabs, though. Scientists have also seen the animals feeding on mussels from the seafloor. 

Since the first Yeti crab was discovered in 2005, two other species in the Kiwaidae family have been found. Both share Kiwa hirsuta’s hairy arms and love of the deep sea. They live as far south as the waters of the South Ocean near Antarctica.

Would you like to see Yeti crabs in their natural habitat? Hop into a submarine and head for the floor of the Pacific! What other new animals might you find there? Maybe you’ll be the one to discover the next new family of marine life!


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