Over the last few months, a number of parcels containing marine decapod crustaceans – yep, ten-footed sea beasts – have arrived at the Museum from the small island of Saint Helena in the South-central Atlantic. Saint Helena is perhaps best known as the place of exile and death of Napoleon Bonaparte, but far less well known are the marine fauna of the island, especially the decapod crustaceans.
The specimens that have been arriving for our Invertebrate Collections were collected by Dr Judith Brown of the Environment and Natural Resources Directorate in Saint Helena and Professor Peter Wirtz of Universidade do Algarve, Portugal. Until now only 36 species were known from the island, and the majority of these were collected between 1958 and 1964; only a single additional species has been recorded since, a specimen collected in 1977, but only reported on in 2007!
The present collection is being studied in collaboration with Dr Paul Clark at the Natural History Museum in London and has so far yielded upwards of ten additional species found on the island, as well as four completely new species.
The snapping shrimp Alpheus cedrici, pictured right, is one of the new records for the island. The species was previously only known from two specimens collected in 2008 from Ascension Island, 1,300 km further north, during this Museum’s Ascension expedition; it was formally described in 2012.
Gnathophylleptum tellei, pictured at the top of the post, is not a new record for St Helena but it is a very rare species of shrimp, currently only known from three specimens in museum collections worldwide (and now one of them is here!). The species was only sighted for the first time in 2001 in Gran Canaria and is otherwise only known from Saint Helena.
The four new species will now be described in the scientific literature, after which a new check-list of the decapod fauna of Saint Helena will be produced. It’s also clear that there’s plenty more to learn about the decapod crustaceans of the island so plans for a more focused collecting trip are now underway.
Photographs: P. Wirtz
Sammy De Grave – Life Collections