Kareen Schnabel is studying squat lobsters for her Ph.D. and here she tells CenSeam more about them –
“Squat lobsters vaguely resemble miniature clawed lobsters – sometimes having extremely long legs and
pincers that can be covered in long spines. The most obvious difference to true lobsters, however, is that
their tail is tucked under their body. When sitting on the ocean floor, they ‘squat’ with their body inclined
and claws held up in front, hence the common name. They are closely related to the marine hermit crabs,
king crabs, porcelain (false) crabs and a newly discovered yeti crab (“furry lobster”).
The squat lobsters actually cover two sister families of crustaceans. The galatheids are the more diverse of
the two families. They inhabit all parts of the ocean and have many forms, from tiny species in the rock
pools of the tropics, to the large white and blind members of the genus Munidopsis on the deep-sea vents.
The chirostylids are sometimes referred to as ‘monkeys of the sea’ because they are adapted to living
among the branches of deep-sea corals, which probably provide shelter and an ideal vantage point to catch
food from. Chirostylids are some of the largest squat lobsters, occasionally reaching nearly 30 cm from the
tips of the claws to the tip of the tail!
From the sheer numbers of some squat lobsters, such as Munida, it should come as no surprise that they
provide a significant food source for fish and other organisms. But what do they eat? They are usually
considered scavengers; they scoop up muddy or sandy deposits and sort out edible bits with their mouth
parts. Ofcourse there are exceptions, and many of them have not been studied in enough detail to be able
to answer this!”
Photograph courtesy of Alan Blacklock (NIWA). Kareen holds up the largest squat lobster in New Zealand
collections, a chirostylid called Gastroptychus rogeri
The Census of Marine Life is a growing global network of researchers in more than 70 nations engaged in
a 10-year initiative to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine life in the
oceans – past, present and future.