New Purple Crab Species Found in Philippines

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One of the four new species of freshwater crab found in remote areas of the Palawan island group.
Hendrik Freitag, of Germany's Senckenberg Museum of Zoology

THE GIST

- Vibrant colors on these crab's shells may distinguish males from females, teens from adults.

- The five new species live in the ecologically-threatened freshwater ecosystems of the Philippines.

Four new species of freshwater crab, bright purple in color, have been discovered in the biologically diverse but ecologically-threatened Philippines, the man who found them said Saturday.

The tiny crustaceans burrow under boulders and roots in streams, feeding on dead plants, fruits, carrion and small animals in the water at night, said Hendrik Freitag of Germany's Senckenberg Museum of Zoology.

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Found only in small, lowland-forest ecosystems in the Palawan island group, most have purple shells, with claws and legs tipped red.

"It is known that crabs can discriminate colors. Therefore, it seems likely that the coloration has a signal function for the social behavior, e.g. mating," Freitag told AFP by email on Saturday.

"This could explain why large males of various Insulamon species are more reddish compared to the generally violet females and immature males."

Scientists began extensive investigations of similar freshwater crabs in the area in the late 1980s, when one new species was found -- the Insulamon unicorn, Freitag said.

More field work led Freitag to conclude there were four other unique species.

"Based on available new material, a total of five species are recognized... four of which are new to science," Freitag wrote in the latest edition of the National University of Singapore's Raffles Bulletin of Zoology.

The carapace of the biggest, Insulamon magnum, is just 53 millimeters by 41.8 millimeters while the smallest, Insulamon porculum, measures 33.1 by 25.1 millimeters.

The two other new species were called Insulamon palawense and Insulamon johannchristiani.

The four slightly differ from the first find, and from each other, in the shapes of their body shells, legs, and sex organs.

US-based Conservation International lists the Philippines as one of 17 countries that harbors most of Earth's plant and animal life.

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Reptiles, birds or mammals likely prey on the crabs, and it is possible people in remote areas also collect them for food, Freitag said.

However, the main threats are the ongoing forest clearing for farming, mining or home building, since this risks drying up their small habitats and causes water pollution, he said.

"Even if the habitats are not entirely destroyed, the smaller the remaining habitats, the higher the risk of extinction for a species," he said.

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