14 Oct 2006

The Hairy Kiwa

Dear Blue Lobster:

I've heard about a weird new hairy lobster that lives at the bottom of the ocean. It's supposed to be a living fossil or something. Do you have the scoop on it?

Dear Gentle Sir:

The Hairy Kiwa is unlike anything ever seen before. Found at depths of 2,300 meters near thermal vents, the Kiwa's pincers, legs, and antennae are covered in fine white celae, or hair. They're also blind, as the benthic deep offers little or no light by which an animal could navigate. In fact, its eyes have devolved into an extra set of antennae for the creature. The Kiwa's body is also strange, its abdomen reduced but not merged with the thorax, as in primitive crabs.

Theories abound regarding the animal's fur coat. One camp suggests the hairs are a way to collect and harvest bacteria, abundant in the warm waters near the vents. Other groups say that the animals use them as sensory devices to compensate for the lack of light. A third group suggests that the celae might have a role in mating, as one male was found adorned with sea shells and had used mud to arrange its hair into intricate patterns. Females sometimes remove some or all of their hair entirely in order to captivate males.

The Hairy Kiwa's only know relative is the Squat Lobster, a member of the same superfamily and similar in body layout. It is thought that the two species are separated by 15 million years of evolution and are remnants of a lineage that eventually led to true crabs and their allies.

Indeed, one could call both the Squat Lobster and the Hairy Kiwa "living fossils," as they retain certain primitive features no longer found in other living species.

Whatever the reason behind the Kiwa's hirsutism and ancient body shape, scientists are attempting to isolate an amino acid found in the Kiwa's blood for hair loss treatment and hope to market a pill based on it within the next few years

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