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The Trail of the Crab: how crabs helped scientists find some vents

Galapagos is a unique place to visit, and it keeps on surprising as scientists keep on studying it. The geographical conditions of the islands are the main reason for their unique diversity. And as research goes on, scientists even get help from the living species in there, and that’s what happened with some crabs.

Just look at the Galapagos Penguins, who can live in a tropical climate, or at the Giant Galapagos Tortoises. But Galapagos’ biodiversity doesn’t end above sea level. Galapagos marine life is also diverse because of geographical conditions, and some of the most distinctive are Hydrothermal vents.

Why are Hydrothermal vents important?

Hydrothermal vents are important for biological reasons, especially for their extreme and hostile conditions for life. It lacks sunlight, toxic chemicals come out of the vents, and there are loads of pressure. So it should be really hard to find life in there. But still… some species survive under those conditions, like some bacteria, worms, clams, and crabs.

Here, Alvin’s meter-long temperature probe extends toward a community of galatheid crabs gathered around hydrothermal vents. (Photo by Robert Hessler)

Hundreds of hydrothermal vents are located around Galapagos, but some haven’t been found yet. And recently, one hydrothermal vent field was found thanks to a crab. Well, to be precise, it was because of many crabs.

How crabs helped the scientists

Scientists knew there was a vent field around western Galapagos, but it had been difficult to find for many reasons. They finally found when a squat lobster appeared, and then bigger groups of crabs appeared like a breadcrumb trail. Because of this, part of the crew called the vent field “The Trail of the Crab” or “El Sendero del Cangrejo”.

This was a 30-day expedition, and the ROV SuBastian (the robot sent to find the vent field) was underwater for over 43 hours. The discoveries will help to understand other unique animal species of Galapagos. It is even likely the crew found new species after this expedition.

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