Professor Peter Ng from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum was part of a research team which identified and described an exciting new genus and species of crabs which live exclusively in trees in Kerala, India. Published in Journal of Crustacean Biology on 3 April, this study is the first to provide report on a crab that spends its entire life in trees.
Members of the Kanikkaran (also known as “Kani”) tribe told an Indian survey team, who had been conducting a two-year study of freshwater crabs in the Western Ghats in Kerala, that they had seen long-legged crabs which live in trees. Initial attempts to capture the elusive crabs were unsuccessful, and it was not till September 2016 that researchers from the University of Kerala, with assistance from the Kani tribe, were able to obtain specimens for the scientists to examine.
The new species of arboreal crabs has been named Kani maranjandu, in honour of the Kani tribesmen who spotted them, with “maranjandu” being the local language for tree crab. The crabs bear several distinguishing characteristics, such as a broad, partially swollen upper shell that allows them to store water in gill chambers, as well as long slender legs suitable for navigating up and around tree trunks. The crabs have been spotted in tree hollows both close to the ground as well as up to 10m up in the trees.
Speaking of the new species, Prof Ng, who helped the Indian scientists describe and classify the species, said, “These crabs are very adaptable and have evolved to use specialised habitats to enhance their survival — in this case — tree holes and climbing. This discovery is important as it highlights how much more work we still need to do to document and conserve the many wonderful animals that live in Asia’s rainforests!”