Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution were stunned this week when Kim Sanchez, an engineer working on the new Lagoon Pond drawbridge, brought them an unusual crab she’d found crawling across the deck of the crane barge. It turned out to be ocypode scintillus, commonly known as the glitter or disco crab, an overharvested crustacean thought now to only exist off the coast of Southern Florida. It has not been seen in New England waters since the 19th century. The crab gets its name from the flecks of mica it secretes on its shell. These flecks reflect light like tiny rhinestones, enabling the crab to dazzle small fish, then seize them with its claws. Mature disco crabs have so much mica encrusted on their shells, and therefore so much sparkle, they were often used to top Christmas trees. Bartholomew Gosnold reportedly drank wine from a goblet made from a disco crab carapace (it was known in his day as the mirror crab). Both Elvis Presley and Liberace wore capes sewn with bits of disco crab shell. Woods Hole marine biologist Dr. Francis Marple thinks disco crab larvae may have been carried up the Gulf Stream after Super Storm Sandy. He cited the local emergence of alpheidea shrimp, such as alpheus brooklynus — colloquially called the turntable shrimp, which is known to have a symbiotic relationship with the disco crab — as evidence that the crab Ms. Sanchez discovered might not be a loner.
“These creatures have learned to work in tandem,” Dr. Marple said in a fax to The Times. “They are seen together in the reefs off Miami.” Dr. Marple added that their highly effective hunting techniques could have an impact on bluefish fry and the young of many other local fish. “Alpheus brooklynus will spin a sand dollar in its pereiopods and apply an antenna to create fluctuating acoustics that overwhelm the lateral lines of many species of minnow. Ocypode scintillus will then gyrate its carapace, dazzling minnows already reeling from sonic assault. The combined attack causes minnows to practically dance into the crustaceans’ mouths.“
Environmental Police divers are expected to inspect the hull of the crane barge this weekend for and signs of disco crabs.
Oh, and April Fools.