Moss crabs, also known as decorator crabs, are found along the southwest coast of North America from Redding Rock, California to Natividad Island (Baja, California). ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Hendrickx and Cervantes, 2003)
Moss crabs are marine crustaceans that are most commonly found in the middle and deeper reef regions of kelp forests. They may also be found in rocky areas or on underwater structures in the epipelagic zone, up to 183 m deep. This species prefers habitat with plants or other cover material, which provides protection from open water predators. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Garth and Abbott, 1980; Hendrickx and Cervantes, 2003)
- Aquatic Biomes
- Range depth
- 0 to 183 m
- 0.00 to 600.39 ft
Moss crabs are large spider crabs. Average carapace width ranges from 68 mm (female) to 88 mm (male), with a maximum carapace length of up to 100 mm. The carapace is pear-shaped (pointed anteriorly) and is covered in short hairs, called setae, which are used in attaching various materials for camouflage. Two rows of hooked setae are present on the rostrum, as well as a sharp spine above and next to each eye. The walking legs and carapace areas near the gills and stomach are also covered in setae. Camouflage materials are placed in the setae rows, keeping them firmly attached. While it is not usually visible, due to being covered with attached items, the carapace color is typically dark green, brown, or gray-brown. One spine and a dome-shaped structure are present on the hepatic region. These crabs have four pairs of walking legs, located on each side of the shell, and one pair of chelae (claws) located anteriorly. Walking leg length is usually very similar or equal to the carapace width, with the second pair of walking legs being the longest. In addition to their larger carapace width, males also have much larger chelae than females. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Hendrickx and Cervantes, 2003; Hines, 1982a)
- Sexual Dimorphism
- male larger
- Range length
- 100 (high) mm
- 3.94 (high) in
Moss crab eggs are attached to setae on their mother's pleopods; eggs may be as large as 0.55 mm in diameter. As embryos grow, they consume egg yolk and, as eggs near hatching, they turn gray in color. These crabs begin life as protozoea larvae. After approximately 30 days, they develop into planktonic zoeae, swimming with limb-like cephalothorax structures, which will develop into the antennae and mandibles. A zoea completes two additional developmental stages, lasting about 18 days, before metamorphosing into a megalops, resembling a small adult. After additional molts, it becomes a juvenile crab, with an average carapace width of 1.5 mm, and eventually develops into a sexually mature adult. Development for this species has not been extensively studied, but some research suggests that the length of time of larval development is dependent on water temperature, with colder temperatures causing slower development and lower reproductive output. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Garth and Abbott, 1980; Hines, 1982a; Hines, 1986)
- Development - Life Cycle
The mating system of moss crabs has not been described, however the mating system of a closely related spider crab, (Libinia spinosa) may be similar. Male spider crabs have two pairs of gonopods of different sizes located anterio-ventrally. The larger pair is inserted into a female’s gonopores (vulvae) during copulation. There are six different types of setae on a male's gonopods, which many aid in positioning during copulation. Rosette glands, producing seminal fluid (males) and nutritional support for fertilized eggs (female), are located in the gonopods of males and the pleopods of females. They may also aid in molting. Sheep crab (Loxorhynchus grandis), another closely related species, comes to shoreline areas to mate. Males compete with each other to find female partners. After a male is successful, he uses his back legs to hook a female to him, back to back, creating an obstetrical pair. ("Sheep Crab", 2001; Sal Moyano, et al., 2011)
- Mating System
- polygynandrous (promiscuous)
Mating occurs throughout the year, rather than seasonally. Females reproduce for 1-2 month periods with short resting periods in between, producing an average of 3.5 broods per year. Though information on brood size for moss crabs is not available, closely related sheep crabs lay between 125,000 and 500,000 eggs per brood, and moss crabs may produce broods of similar sizes. Recently laid eggs may be found on a female's pleopods in an undifferentiated, gelatinous mass. Within a day, however, each egg develops a membrane and a thin filament, which attaches it to the pleopod setae. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; "Sheep Crab", 2001; Hines, 1982b; Hines, 1982a)
- Key Reproductive Features
- year-round breeding
- gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
- Breeding interval
- Females may produce a brood of eggs once every 1-2 months.
- Breeding season
- Moss crabs may breed year round.
- Average gestation period
- 64 days
Female moss crabs carry fertilized eggs on their pleopodal setae for a short period of time. Once eggs have hatched, there is no further investment from either parent. (Garth and Abbott, 1980)
- Parental Investment
- female parental care
There is currently no data available on the average or maximum lifespan for this species.
Moss crabs are known for decorating their shells by attaching other organisms such as algae, sponges, and bryozoans to their shells, helping them to blend in with their environments. They do not use an adhesive material to attach decorations, instead using their hooked setae to secure materials and other organisms; in one experiment, crabs whose setae were removed were unable to decorate until their next molt. Decorating materials may be chewed before attaching, probably to soften them. Molting only occurs during juvenile stages; Moss crabs do not molt again after reaching sexual maturity. After molting, they may remove decorations from their old shells and re-attach them to their new ones. Larger crabs decorate much less than smaller ones, and younger crabs have longer setae and generally decorate more, aiding in camouflage and predator avoidance. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Wicksten, 1978; Wicksten, 1979)
As is characteristic of brachyuran crabs, moss crabs can shed a limb if it gets stuck or is attacked by a predator. The crab can still effectively walk after the leg is released. Eventually a new leg grows to replace the missing limb. Males with larger claws tend to be dominant, which is particularly noticeable during mating. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Garth and Abbott, 1980)
These crabs have been found to demonstrate a cyclic pattern of population size, peaking in the fall and reaching a low in the spring. (Hines, 1982a)
Moss crabs are not known to occupy or defend particular home ranges or territories.
Communication and Perception
Although data specific to moss crab perception is not currently available, research on decapods sheds some light on traits common to the order. They are known to have compound eyes, tactile setae and olfactory filaments. (Chase and Knowlton, 2007)
Moss crabs are generalist omnivores and scavengers, feeding on many kinds of invertebrates, both living and dead (including worms, molluscs, and other crabs), algae, and giant kelp. These crabs may also eat small amounts of their decorations to sustain themselves, particularly under adverse conditions. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Hines, 1982a; Stevens and Merilaita, 2011)
- Primary Diet
- Animal Foods
- aquatic or marine worms
- aquatic crustaceans
- other marine invertebrates
- Other Foods
The decorated shells of moss crabs act as camouflage, which is important because these crabs move very slowly. Moss crabs favor bryozoans as decorative materials, as some species secrete chemicals that may deter predators. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Stevens and Merilaita, 2011)
Due to their relatively large size, moss crabs have fewer predators than other crab species. They are, however, still a food source for a variety of fishes, marine mammals (more rarely), and invertebrates. (Garth and Abbott, 1980; Hines, 1982a)
- Anti-predator Adaptations
- Known Predators
- Black croaker (Cheilotrema saturnum)
- Sculpins (Family Cottidae)
- Lingcod (Bassozetus elongatus)
- Cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus)
- Kelp rockfish (Sebastes atrovirens)
- Copper rockfish (Sebastes caurinus)
- Black and yellow rockfish (Sebastes chrysomelas)
- Sea otter (Enhydra lutri)
- East Pacific red octopus (Octopus rubescens)
Moss crabs form mutualistic relationships with the organisms they use to decorate their shells; the crabs gain protection in the form of camouflage, while the organisms used for decorating benefit from the water currents created by the crabs' movements. As scavengers, moss crabs also help to remove detritus from their environments. They may also serve as hosts to bacterial infections, barnacles, and other parasites. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013; Alvarez, et al., 2001; Jorge, 1985; Stevens and Merilaita, 2011)
- Ecosystem Impact
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
There are no known economic benefits of moss crabs to humans, beyond their display in aquaria and use in various research projects. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013)
- Positive Impacts
- research and education
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There are no known adverse effects of this species on humans. ("Loxorhynchus crispatus-Masking crab", 2013)
This species has no special conservation status. (IUCN, 2013)
Alyssa Sanders (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Alison Gould (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
- bilateral symmetry
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
an animal that mainly eats decomposed plants and/or animals
particles of organic material from dead and decomposing organisms. Detritus is the result of the activity of decomposers (organisms that decompose organic material).
- dominance hierarchies
ranking system or pecking order among members of a long-term social group, where dominance status affects access to resources or mates
animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature
- female parental care
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
- internal fertilization
fertilization takes place within the female's body
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
seaweed. Algae that are large and photosynthetic.
A large change in the shape or structure of an animal that happens as the animal grows. In insects, "incomplete metamorphosis" is when young animals are similar to adults and change gradually into the adult form, and "complete metamorphosis" is when there is a profound change between larval and adult forms. Butterflies have complete metamorphosis, grasshoppers have incomplete metamorphosis.
eats mollusks, members of Phylum Mollusca
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
an animal that mainly eats fungus
- native range
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
active during the night
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
photosynthetic or plant constituent of plankton; mainly unicellular algae. (Compare to zooplankton.)
an animal that mainly eats plankton
the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.
- saltwater or marine
mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.
an animal that mainly eats dead animals
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others
uses sight to communicate
- year-round breeding
breeding takes place throughout the year
animal constituent of plankton; mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. (Compare to phytoplankton.)
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