New Porcelain Crab Species Discovered in Colombia

Posted on September 12, 2017

A new species of porcelain crab has been discovered in Colombia. It was discovered by researchers at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama and the Justus-Liebig University in Giessen, Germany (JLU). The new species, Pachycheles tuerkayi, is named for the late Michael Türkay, head of the Crustacea Section at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Germany.

Porcelain crabs are not true crabs like horseshoe crabs and hermit crabs. The decapod crab-like crustaceans live in shallow water. Porcelain crabs can shed their claws and legs more easily than true crabs and use it as a strategy to evade predators.

Alexandra Hiller, research collaborator at STRI and JLU, says in the announcement, "For quite some time, scientists confused our new species with another, very similar species called P. serratus that often shares the same habitat. They look nearly the same and are both found in the southern Caribbean Sea. However, our new species has hairy claws and is only found along the coasts of Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, whereas P. serratus is found from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to Panama and south to Venezuela."

Hiller also says, "We collected samples of P. tuerkayi and P. serratus under boulders off the coast of Santa Marta, Cartagena and the Gulf of Urabá, Colombia, and also from Bocas del Toro and Playa Diablo, Panama, and from Isla Margarita, Venezuela. We compared the ribosomal DNA of these two species in a phylogeny with other species of Pachycheles and found that they were very different, more different, in fact, than related crabs in the Atlantic and Pacific, separated by the Isthmus of Panama."

The new species was published in a special issue of Crustaceana, which can be found here. Hiller and lead author, Bernd Werding from the Department of Animal Ecology and Systematic Zoology, JLU, have identified over 20 pairs of porcelain crab sister species.

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