12 July 2011

Tuesday Crustie: A fifty year wait for a name

This picture appeared in a wonderful gallery in The Guardian about life on the island of New Guinea a couple of weeks ago.

But in the original paper, you will find another spectacular picture. And before you ask, yes, this is actually the same species:

ResearchBlogging.orgThis second picture is probably more representative of the colouration of the species in the wild. In the paper describing it formally, the authors say its colour is, “Pinkish to orange and sometimes pale yellow.” My understanding is that many species of crayfish have a recessive gene that can result in this bright blue colour. This means that it is easy for pet owners to get a true-breeding strain if you have two individuals with the trait.

The story of the discovery of this species sows the long and roundabout route of basic species descriptions. These species started to show up in the pet trade in Europe and Japan (where have I heard that story before?), with information coming that there were collected in the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya on New Guinea.

The authors went into the extensive archives of a natural history museum in the Netherlands... and found the museum had samples of this unnamed species that were collected in 1952. These wonderful animals have been waiting for a science to name and describe them for over fifty years.

The museum the specimens were found was where the late carcinologist Lipke Holthuis worked. (He was eulogized at The Crustacean Society meeting I attended last month.) The crayfish now bear his name, Cherax holthuisi.

The text that accompanied the Guardian gallery article scares me, though.

Although new to science, wholesalers have already introduced the species to the European and Japanese pet market; however, the biology of the species in the wild, its distribution range, its conservation status and its value to local communities remain unknown.

Grabbing crayfish and shipping them as pets around the world when we are ignorant of their basic biology natural habitat is dangerous and irresponsible. It’s reasons like this that I started the Craywatch project.


Lukhaup C, & Pekny R (2006). Cherax (Cherax) holthuisi, a new species of crayfish (Crustacea: Decapoda: Parastacidae) from the centre of the Vogelkop Peninsula in Irian Jaya (West New Guinea), Indonesia. Zoologische Mededelingen 80(1): 101-107. http://www.repository.naturalis.nl/document/41228

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