Species Spotlight #2: “Dancing” Yeti Crab

If you haven’t seen the prequel for the upcoming nature documentary series BBC Blue Planet 2, where have you been? The trailer features a mixture of stunning clips from the new series, narrated by zoology icon David Attenborough and overlaid with an epic soundtrack blending vocals from rock band Radiohead and music from Hans Zimmer. Just from the trailer, we can see how far the technology available for filming creatures underwater has come since the last big underwater series, The Blue Planet (2001). If you’re a nature documentary nerd like me (and even if you’re not), it is super exciting. To celebrate the new series, this week’s Species Spotlight features a species that starred in the Blue Planet 2 prequel, the “newly discovered dancing yeti crab“, in the words of Sir David.

Drawing of "Yeti" crab (Kiwa hirsuta) discovered south of Easter Island
Yeti crab illustration by Karen Jacobsen

Discovered in 2005 by scientists conducting a deep-sea expedition onboard the submarine Alvin, this peculiar crustacean spends its time blindly ambling along the hydrothermal vents that line the Pacific-Antarctic ridge, near Easter Island (Macpherson et al., 2005). Its name means “Hairy guardian of the sea“, so called for its arms covered in colonies of filamentous bacteria.

Not much is currently known about the ecology of the yeti crab, or indeed why they wave their hairy arms about as if they were dancing. Perhaps the crabs are farming their arm bacteria to use as a food source, or to detoxify poisonous minerals emitted by the vents in their habitat. Or, given that the crabs are thought to be blind, the filaments on their arms could be used for sensory navigation through the darkness of their habitat. Maybe they are simply waving to submarine passers-by. Without a doubt, the new series of Blue Planet will shed some light on the many mysteries of the yeti crab.

yeti crab
“Dancing Yeti Crabs” from BBC Blue Planet 2 (2017)

Binomial Name: Kiwa hirsuta

Common Name: Yeti Crab

Taxonomy: Animalia – Arthropoda – Crustacea – Malacostraca – Decapoda – Anomura – Kiwaidae – Kiwa – K. hirsuta

Size: ~15cm long

Lifespan: unknown

Reproduction: unknown

Beauty:  Despite lack of pigmentation, yeti crabs manage to look adorable. With their arms all covered in silky blond bacteria, they look almost fluffy. Still, this is only the second Species Spotlight post, and we don’t want to get carried away here, so I’ve given them a modest score.

Animal Beauty Pageant Score: 20/100 

Yeti crab claw (2005 Ifremer / A. Fifis)

Deadliness: Although these crustaceans do have pincers, the crabs themselves are just 15cm (5.9 inches) long. Not quite so deadly. 

Deadliness Score: 10/100

Potential for World Domination: As far as we know, yeti crabs are confined to living along the hydrothermal vents of the Pacific-Antarctic ridge, at a depth of around 2,200 metres. It seems like these crabs are just down there doing their thing and occasionally, you know, dancing. Like no-one is watching. (See below for video evidence).

World Domination Score: 10/100



Relationship with Humans: Perhaps luckily for the yeti crabs, human visits to their deep sea habitat are rare. However, hydrothermal vents and the surrounding seabed areas are currently under threat from deep-sea mining for minerals and metals such as silver, copper, manganese and zinc. Currently, it is not known how mining may affect deep-sea ecosystems, but care ought to be taken to preserve these fantastic communities of species that live on the vents, such as the yeti crab.

“Getting Along With Homo sapiens” Score: 40/100

Alvin, the submarine used for deep-sea expeditions, in 1978 (NOAA)

Fame Factor: As they have only recently been discovered, yeti crabs have been out of the limelight. However, once the upcoming episode of BBC Blue Planet 2 where yeti crabs strut their stuff airs, you bet that these funky crabs will be the talk of the town. I think it’s only fair to give these cool crustaceans a high score in this category, in anticipation of their future fame.   

Fame Factor Score: (soon to be) 70/100 

Total Species Spotlight Score: 150/500

The first episode of Blue Planet 2, One Ocean, officially airs on BBC One this Sunday 29th October at 20:00. I. CAN’T. WAIT.


Check out more about the upcoming series Blue Planet 2 on the BBC Earth Website

Find out more about Deep Sea Mining

E. Macpherson, Jones, W., and Segonzac, M. (2005). A new squat lobster family of Galatheoidea (Crustacea, Decapoda, Anomura) from the hydrothermal vents of the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge. Zoosystema, 27:4.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute “Discovery of the Yeti Crab” (2006) http://www.mbari.org/discovery-of-yeti-crab/

Feature Image Credit: Ifremer / A. Fifis (2005)


One thought on “Species Spotlight #2: “Dancing” Yeti Crab

  1. Yeti crabs already have a spot of fame amongst the younger population thanks to an episode in series 3 of Octonauts. (If the TetZooCon quiz had had more questions on this subject then I would have done a lot better!)


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