A lost world of Antarctic creatures which survive not on sun but hydrogen sulphide has been discovered deep beneath the Southern Ocean.
It's the first time scientists have been able to explore the East Scotia Ridge on the sea floor of the Southern Ocean, near Antarctica.
Reported in the journal PLoS Biology this week, the find includes new species of yeti crab, starfish, barnacles, sea anemones and a pure-white octopus unknown to science.
''The first survey of these particular vents, in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica, has revealed a hot, dark, 'lost world' in which whole communities of previously unknown marine organisms thrive,'' Oxford University's Alex Rogers, who led the research, said.
The creatures live in a dark world, heated by hydrothermal vents and ''black smokers'' which exist near volcanically active places where tectonic plates are moving apart.
Hot springs and geysers are the land equivalent to deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Without the benefits of the sun, the creatures living in these biologically bountiful areas have evolved to rely on the chemicals such as hydrogen sulphide which are emitted from the vents.
The chemicals are then converted into energy.
Evidence of the life-giving qualities of the boiling vents was best illustrated in the way yeti crabs - numbering in the thousands - congregated around the chimneys, where temperatures can reach up to 382 degrees Celsius.
Professor Rogers, a conservation biologist, said it wasn't just what was caught on camera that had scientists enthralled. What was absent from the seabed ecosystem proved just as interesting.
''Many animals such as tubeworms, vent mussels, vent crabs and vent shrimps, found in hydrothermal vents in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, simply weren't there,'' Professor Rogers said.
He said the unique species of the East Scotia Ridge suggested that ''vent ecosystems'' may be much more diverse, with interactions far more complex than previously thought.
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