COOL CRUSTACEANS OF THE GALÁPAGOS— THE SALLY LIGHTFOOT AND GHOST CRABS
Now that school is out for the summer, we are excited to share what students across Los Angeles and Ventura County learned from RCDSMM’s environmental educators in the great outdoors. For over a decade, financial support from HWF and other organizations has helped fund environmental education programs, and we are excited to continue this work. This week, we’re highlighting stories and student reflections about time spent at the Sepulveda Basin, Malibu Lagoon, and Topanga State Park. Follow our upcoming blogs and check out our Facebook page to see what observations these young minds are making when they get outside and explore their world!
On a recent visit to Thomas Starr King Elementary, HWF met with Ruby Twiford, a student who shared this amazing illustration from her time at the Malibu Lagoon. While there, Ruby and her classmates “picked up crabs on the beach and learned about the many different fish and birds that impact our food chain.”
To compliment Ruby’s illustration, we are featuring two crabs from the Galápagos Islands— the Sally Lightfoot Crab and the Ghost Crab! Crabs are omnivores, eating anything from algae and plankton to other crabs. But don’t let their cannibalism fool you, crabs can form pretty strong bonds with one another. Mother crabs provide TLC for their offspring for several months after birth and during mating season, male crabs will try and fight off anyone attempting to disrupt a mother crab’s nest.
Sally Lightfoot Crab (aka Red Rock Crab)
Sally Lightfoot crabs are known for their brightly decored shells, their agility, and strength. These colorful crustaceans are commonly found in the Galápagos and along the western coastlines of Central and South America, where predators are abundant. The list of animals who pose a threat to these crustaceans is long and includes moray eels, octopi, fish, lava herons, lizards, and even cats and dogs!
In general, crabs can be fairly solitary creatures and the Sally Lightfoot crabs can spend up to two-thirds of their day hiding in the cracks and crevices of rocks to avoid being seen by predators. Before reaching full maturity, Sally Lightfoot crabs will travel with other juvenile crabs— proving that sometimes there is strength in numbers!
An interesting pair— Sally Lightfoot crabs have been seen clutching to the backside of the marine iguana, feeding off of the dead algae found on the iguana’s skin. This symbiotic relationship keeps the crab fed and the iguana feeling fresh and clean!
Visit the Galápagos and chances are that you will see a number of small, red-orange crabs with sandy dots across their shells. Ghost crabs are a common sight on tropical and subtropical shores and are known to be the fastest running crustaceans in their genus. Peruvians call these speedy crabs “el carretero,” a nickname that translates to the “cart-driver.” There are over 20 species of ghost crabs across the world. The crabs are somewhat easy to identify because they have one front claw that is noticeably larger than the other. The single large claw feature assists ghost crabs in feeding and in burrowing the holes they hide in.
Like the Sally Lightfoot, threats to the ghost crab include: hunting from predatory birds, octopi, tuna, rats, and other land mammals, as well as exposures to suffocating plastics that have found their way into the marine ecosystem.
With over 6,700 crab species spread across the oceans and fresh waters systems of our planet, the Sally Lightfoot Crab and Ghost crab are just two incredible species in a genus of thousands!!!
These exquisitely-vivid photos of the Sally Lightfoot crab and the Ghost crab were taken by HWF founder, Sandor Havasi (Alex Havasi), who spent time in the Galápagos Islands in 2015. To find out more about our work with Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains— the amazing organization that takes students out on environmental education trips, visit their website.
In supporting elementary education, HWF hopes to inspire children to learn about and explore their environment and to nurture the essential connection between people and nature. Keep your eyes on Havasiwf.org and read more student stories and animal blogs this week! On Sunday, we’re highlighting the slithery lizards found in California and the tropics.