K. hirsuta was discovered in March 2005 by a group organized by Robert Vrijenhoek of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Monterey, California and Michel Segonzac of the Ifremer and a Census of Marine Life scientist using the submarine DSV Alvin, operating from RV Atlantis. The discovery was announced on 7 March 2006. It was found along the Pacific-Antarctic Ridge, 1,500 kilometres (930 mi) south of Easter Island at a depth of 2,200 metres (7,200 ft), living on hydrothermal vents. Based on both morphology and molecular data, the organism was deemed to form a new biological family (Kiwaidae); a second species, Kiwa puravida, was discovered in 2006 and described in 2011.
The animal has strongly reduced eyes that lack pigment, and is thought to be blind. The "hairy" pincers contain filamentous bacteria, which the creature may use to detoxify poisonous minerals from the water emitted by the hydrothermal vents where it lives. This process is known as chemosynthesis. Alternatively, it may feed on bacteria, although it is generally thought to be a carnivore.
Although it is often referred to as the "furry lobster" outside the scientific literature, Kiwa hirsuta is a squat lobster, more closely related to crabs and hermit crabs than true lobsters. The term "furry lobster" is more commonly used for the family Synaxidae.