New hermit crab species that's friendly with moray eels

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New hermit crab species that's friendly with moray eels

January 26, 2017 - 19:44
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A new species of hermit crab has been discovered in the Caribbean. Measuring just a few millimetres, the brightly coloured crustacean was first photographed alongside a flaming reef lobster at a dive site called "Something Special".

Female candy stripe hermit crab stretching out her gastropod shell.

Described as "secretive", the hermit crab was named "candy striped hermit crab" {Scientific name: Pylopaguropsis mollymullerae) by Dr Rafael Lemaitre (Smithsonian Institution, USA) because its colourful appearance resembled the colours of candy cane. The discovery was made by underwater photographer Ellen Muller in the Bonaire National Marine Park in the Caribbean. More of the species were subsequently found in the vicinity, sharing various crevices with moray eels.

The hermit crab's right pincer is particularly large in relation to its body. The underside of the pincer's claw resembles a scoop, but its actual function is currently unknown.

Similarly, researchers do not yet know if there is a connection between the hermit crab and moray eels. On at least one occasion, a hermit crab was seen crawling on the body of a broad banded moray, perhaps feeding on substances present on its body. There is a possibility that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two animals, with the hermit crab functioning as a cleaner. In fact, the hermit crab's bright colourful pattern and long hairy antennae are typical in those crustaceans that are fish "cleaners".

If it turns out that the candy striped hermit crab is playing a "cleaner" role, this would be the first time a hermit crab has been observed in this type of ecological association.

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