Species Profile – Squat Lobster
We have had another change in plans due to weather, so have a little time to work on putting together information on some of the really amazing creatures we have seen and sampled during the ROV dives so far. Our first installment is on Squat Lobsters (you gotta love that name).
There are three families of decapod crustaceans (10 legs) that are called Squat Lobsters, all of which can be abundant members of the deep coral community. Squat lobsters are found worldwide in the oceans, often at great depths. There are currently over 870 described species with new ones being discovered as deep-water exploration continues. Squat Lobsters are not actually lobsters, but are more closely related to hermit crabs. They are named for their habit of tucking their abdomen up under their body and looking as though they are moving about in a permanent squat position. Like their namesake non-relative lobsters, Squat Lobsters move around their world backwards when alarmed, perhaps the better to defend themselves if being chased.
Yesterday’s ROV dive showed large numbers of Galatheidae, one of the three Squat Lobster families, scattered across the sandy sediments. (One reference I found said this could be called a “consortium” of crabs.) We were fascinated by their incredibly long pincer arms, which gave them a very gangly appearance. If blue crabs are the linebackers of the crab world, then Galatheidae are the NBA centers. They use their one pair of huge claw-tipped arms to snag fish and other prey and to jostle with their fellow Galatheids for food, territory, or whatever else occupies a crabs’ day at 360 meters below the ocean’s surface.
Before returning to the ship, the ROV collected a few Galatheid specimens to bring on board. The specimens brought up are used for a variety of purposes, from genetic analyses to trophic level studies (who eats who?). The specimens also serve as records of what species are associated with which habitats. Every collection is important when you are working in an area where so little data exists.
For scientific purposes and for their sheer beauty, the Squat Lobsters proved to be a favorite subject of our photography crew. I’m sure you can see why.