2015 Expedition: Crabs, Your Favorite Animals

Aquarium researchers and staff are on expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) to study the natural history of the islands, surrounding reefs and connecting open water ecosystems. Research on the 2015 expedition will directly inform the management and maintenance of this world-renowned MPA. Today's post comes from Rob Lasley.

Crabs aren’t just delicious, dear friends. They are the clawed gems of coral reefs, and many lil beauties have been excavated from dead coral rubble during the expedition. Roughly 7,000 species are known worldwide, but there are likely 7,000 more out there hiding, waiting to be discovered. A large proportion of the diversity occurs in the world’s largest ecoregion: the Western Pacific and Indian oceans, or the Indo West-Pacific for short. What this means, is that PIPA is loaded with crab diversity. They are colorful, diverse in form, and each has its own unique personality.

An assortment of crabs | Photo: Rob Lasley

Some of the most beautiful crabs collected during the expedition belong to the superfamily Trapezoidea. These crabs are the guardians of many species of coral, living within live coral and fending off predators such as the lethal crown-of-thorns sea star or the occasional inquisitive crab scientist. Ouch! Despite their small size, these crabs have evolved strong, sharp weaponry. Pinches can be bloody. The orange and white spotted crab, and orange and blue crab in the figure are members of this superfamily. Despite their ubiquity, the evolutionary relationships between species of trapezoidean crabs is not fully understood. Specimens collected during the expedition will help resolve the evolution of the group.

Other species, such as the coral rubble crabs in the subfamily Chlorodiellinae, will be used as models to understand how geography, ocean currents, distance, behavior, and other aspects of life history play a role marine evolution. Crabs collected will also serve as models to understand diversity and connectivity throughout the vast Indo West-Pacific. All species collected have been photographed and will be available online via the Florida Museum of Natural History website and iDigBio portal (look em up!).

Furthermore, preserved and catalogued specimens from PIPA will aid in identification, classification, conservation and numerous other scientific ventures for hundreds of years to come. In short, there is much, much more to crabs than what you might find on your plate at an all-you-can-eat crab shack in Touristville, Florida. I could go on and on about these lovely little creatures but will end with some photos of fine representatives from the trip. Go ahead, see for yourself.

— Rob

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