|Colour photographs of the Lauriea species in the study |
(credit G. Paulay & T.Y. Chan)
A large number of specimens of crustaceans of the genus Lauriea, along with colour images of some specimens, have been collected by numerous expeditions over the past decades in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Two researchers from the Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes and the University of Barcelona examined all the material that came from recent expeditions to Madagascar, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Philippines and French Polynesia.
Using morphological and molecular data (DNA Barcodes and 16S rRNA) they have discovered five new species of crustaceans belonging to the genus Lauriea (family Galatheidae). They are genetically different but morphologically very similar. The authors also described a new genus, named Triodonthea.
The new species can only be differentiated by their molecular data, colour patterns and a few subtle morphological differences. The molecular and the colour information provide the most consistent differences, whereas the morphological characters can be variable and are therefore difficult to use. These small critters (between 1.5 and 3 cm length) belong to the so-called Squat lobsters which are usually flattened with their long tails held curled beneath the thorax. The majority of squat lobsters are benthic, spending their lives on the sea-floor. Flesh from the larger species is often commercially sold in restaurants. There is also demand for squat lobster meat as feed in fish and shrimp farms. This is in part because they contain astaxanthin, a red carotenoid pigment that helps to colour the meat of farmed fish.