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Author/Editor: N. Sivasothi
Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, Department of Biological Sciences, National University of Singapore.

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05 Jul 2007 - Raffles Museum News has shifted to http://news.rafflesmuseum.net

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Tue 28 Dec 2004

Hydrothermal vent crabs feast on sea 'snow'.

Category : research

A paper by M. S. Jeng (Academia Sinica), graduate student Ng Ngan Kee & Peter Ng of this department introduce X. testudinatus, a species of crab discovered and described in 2000, and explains how vast populations feed in an extreme, toxic habitat.

The paper was published in the latest issue of Nature: Jeng Ming-Shiou, Ng Ngan Kee & Peter K. L. Ng, 2004. Hydrothermal vent crabs feast on sea 'snow'. Nature 432: 969 [pdf], with supplementary material, movie and commentary.

The crab Xenograpsus testudinatus lives at enormously high densities (an average 364 crabs/square metre) around the sulphur-rich hydrothermal vents found in shallow waters off Taiwan. This acidic environment is low in nutrients and the crabs survive by swarming out of their crevices at slack water to feed on the vast numbers of zooplankton killed by the ventsą sulphurous plumes, and that rain down like marine 'snow'.

The Straits Times reported the story on Christmas Day - "NUS researchers discover how crabs can thrive in acidic 'hell'." By Chang Ai-lien, The Straits Times, 25 Dec 2004 [pdf].

"Next, they will be looking at how the crabs have adapted to life unscathed in an environment where human divers have to cover up or suffer acid burns on their skin. "Life is harsh in this environment, yet they have certain mechanisms which allow them to survive," said Miss Ng [Ngan Kee].

She hopes that the work will inspire others to look beyond the obvious in the hunt for new animal species. "There are a lot of weird environments out there that nobody is paying attention to," she said."'Most of us just think that there's nothing there, and that's very sad, because they could hold valuable untapped resources.""

1. The northern coast of Keishan Island, Taiwan. Floating particles of sulphur streaming towards the Pacific Ocean reveal the presence of hydrothermal vents below the sea. 2. A chimney spewing out a high concentration of sulphur particles and hot gases. Inset of MS Jeng and his research assistant braving the acid waters, sulphur and constant pulsating noises. 3. Jeng digging out the crab Xenograpsus testudinatus from the crevices near the base of the chimney. The crabs scatter and settle into other crevices. 4. Close up of the crabs hiding in the crevices. 5. The crabs swarming during the slack water period, feeding as much as possible as particles from the water column settle and before the tide carry the particles away. 6. Close up of the crabs gobbling up zooplankton particles. -- Pictures and text from the supplementary video and written commentary.

Posted at 8:24AM UTC by N. Sivasothi | permalink | ,