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Antarctic Crab Farms Hair

July 7, 2015

This Antarctic crab gets my vote for the most bizarre summer lifestyle. The crab grows in hydrothermal vents, part of the ocean floor where volcanic heat drives hydrogen-rich molecules up through a super-heated spring. Hydrogen sulfide, methane etc. Bacteria can oxidize these molecules for food; such bacteria inhabit the guts of tube worms and giant clams that have evolved to support them, and can eat nothing else.

But the crabs have a different twist–they farm the vent bacteria on the hairs of their claws. Their claws look furry from all the bacteria-covered hair; and the crab scarfs off the bacteria.

According to the journal, the bacteria actually fix CO2 like plants do. Instead of photosynthesis, the bacteria oxidize reduce molecules such as methane. There is plenty of oxygen at the ocean floor, from phototrophs at the ocean surface; the water is so productive that excess oxygen reaches the floor. That won’t always be true though, as human-made “dead zones” are expanding throughout the ocean.

In order to survive, the crab needs to stay within a narrow range of habitat between the vent (400 degrees C) and the near-freezing water at the bottom. So the crabs crowd together, jockeying for the best spot. An epic survival story, for sure.

  1. LJ Waugh permalink
    July 7, 2015 10:17 am

    This is absolutely fascinating! Thank you for posting about this!

  2. PirateLawyer permalink
    July 8, 2015 6:47 pm

    I suggest reading Cambias’ A Darkling Sea for related topics in an exoplanet setting …

  3. July 27, 2015 10:55 am

    I enjoyed meeting you at the kaffeeklatsch this weekend. I hope you got home safely!

    Also glad to read this crabs-farming-in-the-vents piece we talked about. It was indeed as interesting as I thought it would be!

  4. July 27, 2015 10:13 pm

    It was great seeing you at Confluence! I enjoyed our conversation so much. I’ll be blogging soon about the networked rats–after I catch up with my London adventures.

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