Marvels of the deep and their superpowers
BBC: Maggie Georgieva is turning a jar of preservative around in her hands. “This is it,” she says. “This is ‘The Hoff’ – the famous yeti crab with a hairy chest,” referring to the object suspended in alcohol.
Most of us would be hard pressed to name a recently discovered creature from the deep, and this animal may even be the only one that triggers any sort of recognition.The Hoff made headlines in 2012 after being spotted living 2,000m down in a volcanic region of the Southern Ocean.
A novel species, the researchers who found it joked that the crustacean’s fluffy appearance had something in common with a certain American movie star. The nickname stuck.
Of course, The Hoff eventually got a proper title and description. It’s correctly called Kiwa tyleri. And, as is customary, reference examples were lodged at the Natural History Museum in London, which is how a specimen comes to be in the hands of Dr Georgieva.She’s fascinated by hydrothermal vents. These are volcanic systems found along mid-ocean ridges – places where new sea-floor is created by the upwelling of magma.
In some locations, water can get drawn through cracks in the hot rock and become loaded with dissolved metals and other chemicals, before then being ejected back into the ocean. Specialised bacteria are able to exploit these hot fluids (up to 400C), to provide the energy foundation for a beautiful and bizarre collection of more complex organisms.The Hoff, for example, “farms” the bacteria on its hairy chest. Comb-like mouthparts scrape up the microbes into a meal.
Dr Georgieva has another jar in her collection of what are known as tubeworms.These do symbiosis in a slightly different way. The animals have no mouth parts, no stomach and no gut. Instead, they possess an organ called a trophosome which acts as a kind of shelter for the bacteria. The microbes pay their rent to the worms in nutrients.