New Species of Hermit Crab Discovered in Gulf of Mexico

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Marine biologists from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have described a new species of the hermit crab genus Cancellus from a deep bank in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

Cancellus heatherae, female holotype, shield length - 4 mm: (A) habitus, dorsal; (B) habitus, right side; (C) habitus, ventral; (D) sixth tergite and telson, dorsal. Image credit: Felder & Lemaitre, doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4890.4.10.

Cancellus heatherae, female holotype, shield length – 4 mm: (A) habitus, dorsal; (B) habitus, right side; (C) habitus, ventral; (D) sixth tergite and telson, dorsal. Image credit: Felder & Lemaitre, doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4890.4.10.

Cancellus is a distinctive genus of hermit crabs in the family Diogenidae, containing over 15 recognized species.

Most members of this genus live in pieces of rock, sponge, coral, or other firm substances, rather than in gastropod shells as is more typical for pagurid hermit crabs.

Named Cancellus heatherae, the newly-discovered species features several minor anatomical differences from other members of the genus.

Small in stature and with yellow-orange to deep-orange pigmentation, it is known only from the type locality off Louisiana in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, western Atlantic Ocean.

The sole specimen of Cancellus heatherae was found among rhodoliths and other calcareous rubble on an offshore bank at 95 m (312 feet) depth.

The actual reef where the specimen was collected is known as a mesophotic reef, meaning a middle area where light is limited.

“These are exciting areas to search for new biodiversity as scientists embark on deeper dives,” the researchers said.

The three other known western Atlantic species of Cancellus (C. spongicola, C. viridis, and C. ornatus), all range into the eastern Gulf of Mexico or waters off Yucatan, and may in some settings occur sympatrically with the new species.

“To the untrained eye, the tiny crab might have been mistaken for a mud shrimp, especially since it was not sporting a stereotypical hermit crab shell,” the scientists said.

The discovery of Cancellus heatherae is desribed in a paper in the journal Zootaxa.

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Darryl Felder & Rafael Lemaitre. 2020. A new species of the hermit crab genus Cancellus H. Milne Edwards, 1836 from a mesophotic deep bank in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico (Crustacea: Decapoda: Diogenidae). Zootaxa 4890 (4): 589-598; doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.4890.4.10

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