New Species of Hermit Crab Found

Biologists led by Prof Christopher Tudge of American University in Washington, DC, have discovered a tiny new species of hermit crab on the barrier reef off the coast of Belize.

This is a photo of Areopaguristes tudgei, a new species of crab discovered by and named for American University biologist Christopher Tudge (Rafael Lemaitre / Darryl Felder)

The new species, named Areopaguristes tudgei, is described in a paper in the journal Zootaxa. A. tudgei differs from other species in the genus Areopaguristes by such characteristics as the hairs growing on some of its appendages.

“You can take 40 steps off the island and you’re on the edge of the reef, and then the back part of the reef is what they call the lagoon,” Prof Tudge recalled.

“You slowly walk out into ever-increasing depths of water and it’s a mixture of sand and sea grass and bits of coral, and then there’s some channels. There are lots of different habitats there. Some islands are covered by mangroves. So we would visit all the different habitats that were there.”

“We would collect on the reef crest, go and turn over coral boulders on the reef flat, snorkel over the sea grass beds. We pumped sand and mud to get things out of the ground. We walked into the mangroves and collected crustaceans from under the mangrove roots. We even snorkeled in the channels in the mangrove islands.”

“Given this cryptic habitat and the relatively minute size of the specimens – shield length range 1.0-3.0 mm – it is not surprising that these populations have gone unnoticed during extensive sampling programs that have previously taken place along the Barrier Reef of Belize,” said co-authors Dr Rafael Lemaitre of the Department of Invertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History and Dr Darryl Felder of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette’s Department of Biology Laboratory for Crustacean Research in the paper.

The biologists explained why they chose its name: “This species is named after our colleague Christopher C. Tudge of American University who first noticed and collected populations of this diminutive hermit crab living under large dead coral boulders during joint field work in Carrie Bow Cay. The name also acknowledges his unique contributions to knowledge of the reproductive biology of hermit crabs.”

“You go through several emotions when a species has been named after you,” said Prof Daniel Fong, Tudge’s colleague of the American University’s College of Arts and Sciences. “It is truly an honor, in the most formal sense of the term, that your colleagues have thought of naming a species after you. It is a very special type of recognition of your contribution to your research field by your colleagues.”

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Bibliographic information: Lemaitre R, Felder DL. 2012. A new species of the hermit crab genus Areopaguristes Rahayu & McLaughlin, 2010 (Crustacea: Decapoda: Anomura: Diogenidae) discovered in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef of Belize, Caribbean Sea. Zootaxa 3480: 67–79