New species around Antarctic thermal vents

Thermal vents in other oceans have mussels, shrimp, and giant tube worms. But there’s a huge founder effect–each is colonized by the first lucky organisms to find it and survive close to, but not touching, the superheated water that streams out of them. Newly discovered vents in the floor of the Antarctic Ocean have unique ecosystems, with new specie of barnacles, anemones, and snails. One has hairy crabs that eat the bacteria that grow in their hair, along with seven-armed brittle stars that pray on the crabs.

small, rounded white crab climbing into piles like pyramids

Piles of pale, hairy crabs

The food base for all vents are chemoautotrophic bacteria–meaning they can extract energy from the chemicals in their superheated water. Many of them oxydize molecules of hydrogen sulphide. Because of the pressure, the water can’t boil and is as hot as 380° C or 720° F. These vents are called “black smokers” because precipitating minerals darken the water as it cools.

The crabs are a new species, but not quite unique–other species of hairy crabs have been found at vents in warmer oceans.

white octopus curling its tentacles

An unidentified pale octopus

These deep-sea vents are explored only by remotely operated [submarine] vehicles (ROVs) with lights, video cameras, and sampling arms. The white octopus seemed to be attracted to their light and might not be a vent creature.

UPDATE: “There’s a crab in a vent in a hole in the bottom of the sea!”


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