History of the Yeti crab

Discoverer Michel Zegonzac holding his famous specimen.
(Courtesy WHOI © 2006).

Nothing more was heard of the species until March 2005, when specimens of the strange hairy crab were collected from hydrothermal vents along the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge by the American research expedition MBARI PAR-5, commissioned to study gene flow along the margins of the Easter Microplate, a tectonic plate south of Easter Island.

In December 2005, the team of Enrique Macpherson, William Jones, and Michel Segonzac made their big splash.  They announced in French zoological journal Zoosystema the discovery of Kiwaidae, a new family of squat lobsters containing a single genus Kiwa and species K. hirsuta, n. sp., n. gen, which they nicknamed the "Yeti crab."  They named the genus for "the goddess of the shellfish in the Polynesian mythology" (Macpherson, et al. 2005)—a humorous mistake, given the fact that according to The Maori-Polynesian Comparative Dictionary (Tregear 1891), Kiwa was actually a male guardian of the sea in Māori mythology.  They chose the species epithet (Latin for "hairy") in reference to the luxuriant setae ornamenting the crab's appendages.

Adapted from Bouchet, P. (2006).  The magnitude of marine biodiversity. in Duarte, C. (Ed.) (2006).  The exploration of marine biodiversity: Scientific and technological challenges, p. 34. in
The announcement of the discovery of Yeti crab sparked a media firestorm. (Courtesy Fundación BBVA © 2006).

Shortly after being picked up in a local paper, the story swept across the international newswires, igniting a veritable firestorm of media and public interest around the world. Incredibly, within a mere three months, the Yeti crab had been mentioned on over 200,000 websites (Bouchet 2006), a figure that has since mushroomed to over 1 million. The excitement was no doubt fueled by the crab's bizarre resemblance to the Yeti (known more commonly to Americans as the "Abominable Snowman"), a mythological creature said to inhabit the Himalayan mountains of Tibet and Nepal. It is reasonable to speculate that discoverer Dr. Segonzac may have chosen to brand his species with the common name "Yeti crab" precisely to tap into the popular appeal of this bone-chilling legend.

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