Tree Crab Species Discovered In India For The First Time

Meet India's first tree crab. Peter K. L. Ng et al/Oxford University Press on behalf of The Crustacean Society.

Crabs aren’t just good for awkwardly scuttling across beaches or the sea floor, many species are also quite fond of awkwardly scuttling up trees across the Americas, Africa, and parts of Asia. Now, it's finally been confirmed that India is home to a true tree-loving, tree-living crab, too.

This new species (and new genus) of tree crab, Kani maranjandu, was recently described in the Journal of Crustacean Biology. It was discovered in Kerala, among the forests of the Western Ghats in south India, making it the “first tree-climbing crab reported from India.” India does have species of crab that often live in and amongst trees, however, this is the first "true arboreal crab" as it only relies on water found within a tree trunk, while others rely on streams and pools.

The freshwater crab lives in small bodies of water featured within the tree hollows, which can be anywhere from a few inches off the ground to 10 meters (33 feet) up a trunk. Its other distinguishing features are its near-black coloring and its spindly, spider-like legs.

The species is named Kani maranjandu after the Kani tribe in Kerala, who helped lead the researchers to make the discovery. The crabs are very shy, but Kani tribespeople told the researchers they can locate the crabs by looking at the debris and air bubbles pushed out from their tree holes.

The biodiversity of the Western Ghats is very well-established, the researchers say. However, the fact this crab has only just been discovered shows how little science knows about this important area.

"As water holding hollows in large trees are essential for the survival of this unique species, the discovery also stresses the need for conservation of large trees in the degraded forest ecosystems of the Western Ghats," Dr. Biju Kumar, one of the study authors, said in a statement.  "It also highlights how little we know about the actual biodiversity that resides in these forests and the efforts that must still be made to find and study the many undoubted new species that still live there."

A member of the Kani tribe shows their wisdom to the researcher. Peter K. L. Ng et al/Oxford University Press on behalf of The Crustacean Society.

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