This post originally appeared on the Department of Invertebrate Zoology’s blog – No Bones - on February 20, 2013. Thank you to the Department of Invertebrate Zoology for allowing us to repost this piece!
The Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP) is a Smithsonian initiative in the island of Curaçao which began in 2011 with support from the Consortium for Understanding and Sustaining a Biodiverse Planet. I have been studying hermit crabs and other crabs that have been filmed or photographed using a manned submersible named Curasub, which can dive down to 300 m in depth. A rich and spectacularly colored fauna of hermit crabs, never seen before alive in their original habitats, has been discovered.
The DROP program is providing an extraordinary and unique opportunity for taxonomists like me to make direct, live observations of many species that have previously been known exclusively from preserved and colorless specimens in museum collections. The study of these samples, such as those of Pylopagurus discoidalis shown here, is serving to expand and complement collaborative studies on hermit crabs systematic from the Caribbean at large. The specimens are being used to obtain molecular data such as barcodes and DNA sequences, which will be useful for biodiversity assessments, long-term faunal monitoring, and evolutionary studies.
by Rafael Lemaitre