Although scientists believe that Europe’s marine fauna has been more intensively studied than that of other continents, there are still surprises that crop up. During a recent expedition studying the Banco de Galicia underwater mountain lying off the northwestern coast of Spain, the team from the research group INDEMARES discovered a new species of squat lobster measuring between 2 to 2.75 inches long, at a depth of about 4,600 feet in the ocean.
A Rare Find
What made this particular find so unusual is that the squat lobster concerned, now officially known as Uroptychus cartesi, is a member of a family that is very rare in Europe. It was named after researcher Joan Cartes from Barcelona’s Institute of Marine Sciences, who has made a significant contribution to knowledge about Iberian deep-sea fauna.
Only four species had previously been recorded from European waters — three of which were discovered in the late 1800s — and the most recent (prior to this latest discovery) was identified back in 1976. To put this into a global perspective, more than 100 such members of the Chirostylidae family to which they belong have been documented in the Indo-Pacific, with a further 14 known from America.
A Shared Ancestry
Compared to those found elsewhere, this latest addition to the family actually has more features in common with the Caribbean species, Uroptychus armatus, thanks to the number of thorns on the shell and its overall shape.
“Its relationship to squat lobsters found in the Caribbean is logical. All North Atlantic species have common features and are likely to have a shared ancestry, with the ancestral stock invading the Atlantic from the Pacific and Indian Oceans a few million years ago,” explains Enrique Macpherson, a researcher at the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (CEAB-CSIC).
“This small orange-colored species usually lives around deep corals and gorgonians and tends to be abundant in submarine mountains and canyons that have been subject to little fishing,” adds Macpherson, who emphasizes that gorgonians and corals are the first to disappear in trawling zones, so this unique habitat and such inhabitants could be at risk in the future.
What makes this Uroptychus especially vulnerable is that its young do not disperse over a wide area. They remain close to where they hatch, as they only spend a very short time in a planktonic stage, drifting in the ocean, and this accounts for the localized distribution of the species. Its diet appears to consist of organic debris and smaller crustaceans.
Reference: Baba, Keiji; Macpherson, Enrique. “A new squat lobster (Crustacea: Decapoda: Anomura: Chirostylidae) from off NW Spain” Zootaxa 3224: 49-56, 2012.