Lobster Insights

Exploring the Fascinating World of the Terrible Claw Lobster: A Deep Dive into its Unique Features and Behavior

The terrible claw lobster is a small deep-sea crustacean that was discovered in 2007 in the Philippines during the Census of Marine Life, a major effort to document marine biodiversity in the 21st century1. It belongs to a new genus and species, Dinochelus ausubeli, which means “terrible claw” in Greek2. Its name comes from its striking feature: a pair of very long, toothed claws with a bulbous base, one of which is much larger than the other3. In this blog post, we will explore some of the fascinating aspects of this rare and mysterious creature, such as its appearance, distribution, taxonomy, and possible function of its claws.

Appearance

The terrible claw lobster has a carapace length of around 31 millimetres (1.2 inches), and is mostly translucent white in color, with reddish pink patches near the middle of the carapace, on the tail fan, on the antennae, and on the first pair of legs (including the claws)2. It is also completely blind. Its most distinctive feature is its two claws, which are very different in size and shape. The larger claw is about twice as long as the carapace, and has many long teeth on the inner surface. The smaller claw is about half as long as the carapace, and has fewer teeth. Both claws have a swollen base that resembles a boxing glove2.

Distribution and Discovery

The terrible claw lobster is only known from its type locality, off the coast of Luzon in the Philippines. It was found by trawling at a depth of around 250 metres (820 feet) in 20072. It is one of the more than 6000 new species that were discovered during the Census of Marine Life, a 10-year project that involved 2700 scientists from 80 countries and 540 expeditions1. It was described in 2010 by an international team of scientists2.

Taxonomy

The terrible claw lobster belongs to a group of lobsters previously recognised as the separate family Thaumastochelidae, which also includes the genera Thaumastocheles and Thaumastochelopsis. These genera all show very long, toothed claws with a bulbous base, with one claw much longer than the other2. Dinochelus is thought to be the sister taxon to Thaumastocheles + Thaumastochelopsis based on DNA sequencing using cytochrome oxidase I2. It is distinguished from either genus by the unusual T-shaped form of the epistome (a plate between the mouthparts)2. The specific epithet “ausubeli” honours Jesse H. Ausubel, the sponsor of the Census of Marine Life2.

Function of Claws

The function of the claws of the terrible claw lobster is still unknown. Perhaps they are used for feeding, defense, or mating. Some possible hypotheses are:

  • Feeding: The claws may be used to capture prey or scavenge food from the seafloor. The teeth may help to crush or tear apart food items. The larger claw may be more effective for grabbing prey, while the smaller claw may be more precise for manipulating food.
  • Defense: The claws may be used to deter predators or competitors. The teeth may inflict damage or pain to potential threats. The larger claw may be more intimidating or protective, while the smaller claw may be more agile or versatile.
  • Mating: The claws may be used to attract mates or fight rivals. The teeth may signal strength or fitness to potential partners. The larger claw may be more conspicuous or attractive, while the smaller claw may be more functional or adaptive.

These hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, and may vary depending on the context or situation. More research is needed to test these hypotheses and observe the behavior of this lobster in its natural habitat.

Conclusion

The terrible claw lobster is a remarkable example of marine biodiversity and evolution. It has a unique morphology that sets it apart from other lobsters. It is also a rare and elusive species that lives in a poorly explored environment. It raises many questions about its ecology and biology that await further investigation. By learning more about this lobster and other deep-sea creatures, we can gain a better understanding and appreciation of the diversity and complexity of life in the oceans.

References

1: Leo Shapiro. “Dinochelus ausubeli”. Encyclopedia of Life. https://eol.org/pages/1027839
2: Tin-Yam Chan, Shane T. Ahyong, and Philippe Bouchet. “A new genus and new species of ‘enoplometopid’ lobster (Crustacea, Decapoda, Nephropoidea) from the Philippines”. Zoosystema. 32 (3): 525-535. https://sciencepress.mnhn.fr/en/periodiques/zoosystema/32/3/un-nouveau-genre-et-une-nouvelle-espece-de-langouste-enoplometopidae-crustacea-decapoda-nephropoidea-des-philippines
3: “Dinochelus”. Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinochelus
: Bec Crew. “The mystery of Ausubel’s mighty claw lobster”. Australian Geographic. https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/creatura-blog/2014/09/large-claws-of-the-ausubels-mighty-claw-lobster/