New Spider-Like Crab Species Discovered In India: Climbs Up And Lives On Trees

By Luan Chan | Apr 09, 2017 02:23 PM EDT

The Earth has been around for millions of years so it is not surprising that humans still have a lot to discover about the Earth's ecosystem, especially since creatures continue to adapt to the changing environment.

In December 2016, scientists discovered six new marine species in the Indian Ocean floor with the help of a robot. Now a professor of Aquatic Biology from the University of Kerala confirms that an elusive spider-like creature spotted in trees in Kerala is actually a new species.

Spider-Crab Discovery

Sightings of a spider-like crab that climbs and lives in trees in the Western Ghats of South India were first reported by the Kani tribe in 2014. Incidentally, Professor Biju Kumar was in the area at that time to survey freshwater crabs but, even with the help of his student and members of the Kani tribesmen, it took Professor Kumar months before he was finally able to track down and capture a couple of the elusive long-legged crabs.

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In honor of the tribe that led to the discovery, the new crab species has been named Kani maranjandu which is, basically, the name of the Kani tribe and the local term for "tree crab."

A Closer Look

The crabs can supposedly fit in the palm of a human hand and has a deep bluish-black body that is broad, swollen, and convex. They also have long legs with slim, curved, and sharp ends that allow the crustaceans to get a good grip on the trees they climb. However, what makes the newly discovered creatures so striking is not its appearance but its behavior and way of life.

According to Professor Kumar's study published in the Journal of Crustacean Biology, the Kani maranjandu lives up high in water-filled holes of tall deciduous and evergreen trees. The crustaceans are able to move rapidly as they climb up and down tree trunks but are very shy and tend to quickly hide in their holes when approached. Younger crabs, however, climb up and take shelter even higher in tree canopies that are about 30 feet above the ground.

Scientists note that other tree-dwelling crab species climb only up to a few feet up a tree so the Kani maranjandu's behavior is pretty unusual for crabs.

Professor Kumar also observed that the crab heavily relies on rainwater collected in tree hollows for survival, noting that the creatures abandon a hollow when it dries up. The crab's body shape enables it to hold water as it searches for a new tree hollow with water to occupy.

A Good Example of Evolution

Biologist Peter K.L. Ng from the National University of Singapore helped classify the new species and he believes that the Kani maranjandu is a good illustration of crab evolution.

"The exciting thing for me is that these crabs, regardless of where they have been found, and how they are related (or unrelated) to each other, they have nevertheless evolved to use specialized habitats to enhance their survival," he says.

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