Weird Critter Profile: Decorator Crabs


Decorator Crab FLICKR Some animals have gift for fashion.  Several species of crabs that go by the common names decorator crabs, dresser crabs or sponge crabs are particularly good at playing dress up.  But unlike human fashionistas, the frocks these marine crustaceans don provide camouflage and sometimes, chemical defense against predators. 

Sponge crabs, as their name suggests, collect living sponges and hold them on their backs with a specially adapted set of legs.  They are expert tailors and will trim a sponge that is too large to fit on their backs down to just the right size. As they grow too large for their garb, sponge crabs will go shopping for a new sponge.   

Dresser or decorator crabs dress themselves in living coral polyps and sea anemones, the latter of which have stinging tentacles that deter predators.  These crabs actually have tiny, Velcro-like hooks on their shell that hold their accessories in place.  Other types of decorator crabs dress in bits of poisonous seaweed, which they attach to themselves with a glue-like secretion.  Ever thrifty, decorator crabs will recycle their decor when they molt their shell by removing it from the old one and reattaching it to the new when it hardens.

A well-dressed crab can be practically invisible on the reefs where they live.  True to their fashion-forward natures, these crabs are not above using human-made clothing, sandals and other items that have washed out to sea, which is an odd sight indeed!

VIDEO: Watch this fun BBC video all about dresser crabs.

Photo: / CC BY 2.0

David Mizejewski is a naturalist with the National Wildlife Federation. His goal is to inspire others to appreciate the wonders of nature. Meet David >







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