Life at the absolute bottom of the sea is rarely lush. Food is sparse, and temperatures forbidding. But new research shows that in certain spots, even the deep-sea floor can be hospitable. Teams of British scientists have found what may be dozens of new species clustered around vents off the Antarctic coast and in the Indian Ocean. These vents, which act like underwater hot springs, pump mineral-rich fluid into the sea, warming the surrounding waters. At the Antarctic location, researchers discovered thousands of hairy yeti crabs, from a species never before seen by science. Nearby, there were smooth, brown snails, stalked barnacles, sea anemones and seven-armed starfish—all new to science.
In total, the researchers took samples of what may be 30 new species from the Antarctic vent, as well as 17 from a similar spot in the Indian Ocean, including what is likely a second new kind of yeti crab. The crustaceans survive on bacteria gathered on their bristly undersides. But they likely wouldn’t make good eating themselves, says Jon Copley, a researcher at Britain’s Southampton University. “They have very little flesh,” he says. And besides, they’d probably taste like sulphur.