WILD NATURE

Christmas creature: 'Candy cane' crab discovered in the Caribbean

crab

 (Rafael Lemaitre and Ellen Muller)

Meet the candy striped hermit crab, a new species that looks like it could be an undersea Christmas ornament.

It's a pretty little critter, with bright red and white colorations that give the tiny creature the look of a candy cane, although it’s a safe bet that it doesn’t taste like a sweet piece of candy. The crab was first spotted by a diver in the Caribbean, near the island of Bonaire. Eventually, a scientist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. analyzed specimens and identified it as a new species, giving it the common name “candy striped hermit crab.”

Found living near moray eels-- and at one point seen crawling on one-- the little crab is just a few millimeters across, and is thought to perhaps have a fish-cleaning role in its niche in the ecosystem. 

“The brightly colored pattern of the hermit crab with red stripes and very long, hairy antennae are also typical for most crustaceans considered fish ‘cleaners,’” a statement about the crab’s discovery said. Members of this sweet new species were found about 45 feet underwater, beneath a big coral ledge.

While the crab’s common name is tied to its distinctive, colorful appearance, the scientific name honors the granddaughter of the woman, Ellen Muller, who found it and photographed it while scuba diving. That honor, Muller hopes, will "inspire her to continue the tradition of protecting the amazing and fragile diversity of marine life in Bonaire,” according to the statement.

The new crab, Pylopaguropsis mollymullerae, is described in the journal ZooKeys.