This colorful crab generally burrows in sandy areas. As a walking crab, the calico crab's back legs are peg-like rather than shaped like flattened paddles for swimming, as seen on a blue crab. Calico crabs (Hepatus ephiliticus) are in the same family as shame-faced or box crabs, and are sometimes referred to as Dolly Varden crabs. These crabs are scavengers rather than hunters, and are relatively common in the Gulf, burrowing in sandy areas in shallow water.
The snapping shrimp's (Alpheus heterochaelis) enlarged claw produces a sound loud enough to be heard above water or outside an aquarium. The release of tension by muscles in the claw creates a shock wave strong enough to stun small fish or invertebrates. The snapping shrimp then pulls its prey into its burrow. Snapping shrimp range in color from semi-translucent to dark green. They prefer to live in quiet, shallow water under oyster rubble or in sponges.
The nocturnal ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata) stands erect on the tips of its legs; hence it is amazingly quick and agile. This beach dwelling crab is almost white in color and reaches lengths up to 5". It has strong claws for crushing small clams and mole crabs upon which it feeds. It lives in burrows under the sand during the day in order to keep its gills moist. Ghost crab burrows typically have multiple tunnel entrances, which are easily spotted along the dunes of Key Island.
The giant hermit crab is the largest marine hermit crab in North America. Its carapace (external skeleton) is red or purple with noticeably large, scale-like bumps. Like other hermit crabs, this species has a soft tail and uses an abandoned snail shell as its protective mobile home. Small tabs along the crab's bottom help it maintain a grip inside the shell so that it can recoil inside for protection. As the hermit crab grows, it must find larger shells to occupy. Hermits are generally secretive when changing shells due to their vulnerability to predators during that process.
Mantis shrimp (Squila empusa) get their name from their "praying mantis-like" appearance, although they are not true shrimp. They have claws that strike out with incredible speed and power, able to instantly chop small fish in half. These crustaceans are also known as thumb splitters among shrimp fishermen who must watch for these voracious predators in their nets. Mantis shrimp are nocturnal and are sometimes caught during night trawls in the Reserve. A living mantis shrimp can sometimes be seen an the acrylic (not glass) focus tank in the Environmental Learning Center exhibit hall.
This spider crab is native to southwest Florida waters. Following fertilization the female crab carries her eggs in a special brood pouch on her belly. When the eggs hatch she expells the tiny larvae into the water column where they will float as plankton and begin to grow. The tiny dots swimming around in the water are these larvae, called "megalops." Other residents of the temporary holding container, such as young spade fish, are enjoying the feast. Watch the video below to see it in action!
The spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, is Florida's largest commercial fishery. They lack the giant claws of their cold-water cousins, but do have sharp spines and cryptic coloration that help protect them from predators such as moray eels and nurse sharks. Although several other lobster species are found in reserve waters, the spiny lobster is a tropical species found in extreme south Florida and throughout the Caribbean. The specimen in our tank was donated to Rookery Bay Reserve by FWC.