October 31, 2012

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By Mera McGrew

They don’t wear sheets to look like ghosts or don fake blood and fangs to resemble vampires, but one family of crabs seems to have mastered the art of disguise. Majoidea crabs, commonly known as decorator crabs, have the unusual habit of “decorating” their backs or carapaces. They use bits of algae, sponges, anemones, coral polyps or whatever else they find lying around the ocean floor.

Researchers report that Majoidea crabs “decorate” as a form of camouflage, which is an essential survival technique used by many creatures. These crabs are known to live in shallow water along with multiple other ocean creatures. Without being able swim or run quickly through the ocean, researchers explain that by camouflaging themselves, these crabs are able to blend into their environment and hide from other animals that might otherwise harm or eat them.

But how do they decorate? Researches have found that the crabs “decorate” instinctively, though the actual amount of decoration and its composition is behaviorally determined. They gather odd marine invertebrates, seaweed and other things in their surrounding environment. They then press what they’ve gathered onto little hooks that cover their shells, which researchers suggest function much like Velcro. Once fully decorated, the crabs seem to disappear from view entirely.

Watch the video below to see a fashion-conscious dresser crab (decorator crab) dress up (or more accurately, decorate) like Lady Gaga this Halloween.

Top photo: John J. Stachowicz/ Section of Evolution and Ecology University of California)

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