Posted | Monday 9th January, 2012
UK scientists have discovered prodigious numbers of a new species of crab on the Southern Ocean floor which they have nicknamed 'The Hoff' because of its hairy chest. The animals were discovered living around underwater volcanic vents off the South Georgia coast.
The creature has still to be formally classified, hence the humorous nickname which honours the often bare-chested US actor David Hasselhoff. It is however a type of yeti crab, says Professor Alex Rogers who led the deep sea research cruise which discovered the animal, and it will be given a formal scientific name in due course.
Yeti crabs were first discovered in the southern Pacific region and are recognised for the hairs or 'setae' as they are known, along their claws and limbs which they use to cultivate the bacteria which they then eat. This new species are slightly different in that they exhibit long setae on their ventral surface or undersides.
''Their nickname on the cruise ship was the 'Hasselhoff crab' which gives you some idea of how they look'' explained Dr Rogers from Oxford University's Department of Zoology.
"The crab occurs in staggering densities. It is just incredible to see these animals literally lying in heaps around the diffuse flow of these vents. In some places, they reached as many as 600 animals per square metre" said Dr Rogers.
The Hoff crab is only one of a number of new species discovered as a result of the cruise, which also included researchers from the University of Southampton, the National Oceanography Centre and the British Antarctic Survey. The team reports novel types of starfish, barnacles, sea anemones and even an unidentified pale coloured octopus - all living some 2,500m down.
The cruise employed the UK deep-diving submersible Isis, to investigare the slowly spreading ridge near Antarctica. It is dotted with hydrothermal vents, which are cracks in the volcanic rock where mineral-rich, hot waters gush from below the seabed and sustain an extraordinary array of organisms.
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