Creature Feature: Not quite Muhammed Ali

Ok, fancy me a little use of your imagination here.

You open your eyes to find yourself in the midst of a large crowd of screaming people. Looking down, you are dressed in bright colorful satin shorts with the word "Predator" embroidered across the front. Over your hands are leather, padded boxing gloves. Suddenly a voice overpowers the murmur of the crowd and announces that you will be facing a worthy opponent, Muhammed Ali.

Bear with me here.

Muhammed steps out (let’s imagine he is in his prime) and begins to dance. He moves so nimbly back and forth you can barely keep your eyes on him. Hmmmm, sort of like a butterfly. Suddenly, he throws the first punch. It connects with your face and by golly, it feels like the sting of a bee!

Now his glove is stuck to your face and you can’t get it off. You yank so hard you’re sure some of your face came off with the glove. But, that’s not a glove, it’s an ANEMONE! And that’s not Muhammed Ali . . . that’s . . a . . . BOXER CRAB!

All right, I know that’s all a little far fetched. But I wanted to use a little creative imagery for you to understand exactly how amazing these little critters are, and they are little! 

The carapace of Boxer Crabs (Lybia tesselata) typically reach a length no larger than half an inch at their widest point. Their candy-cane striped legs extend slightly beyond that, but the most amazing part of their anatomy is the two pom-poms at the end of their first legs. These pom-poms are actually anemones that the Boxer Crabs share a mutualistic relationship with. Mutualism is where both species benefit from the relationship. While the Boxer Crab defends itself against larger predators with the stinging power of the anemones, the anemones feed on small particles of food that are dropped by the crab when it feeds. Not too shabby of a deal!

["Boxer Crab" left]

There is one more species of Boxer Crab that occurs off the Hawaiian Islands. The scientific name is Lybia edmondsoni and it differs slightly in coloration from the species photographed here. Both species occur in the Indian and Pacific oceans in relatively shallow water. If you are determined to find one of these elusive little creatures to photograph or simply for the satisfaction of viewing, the best thing to do would be to ask a local guide. Yes, I know that isn’t what you want to hear right now, but here is another trick. Look for a pebbly bottom in about 30 to 60 feet of water with lots of larger rocks for cover. Oh, and you’ll need lots of luck because these critters are super small, so you’ll have to keep your eyes peeled.

Happy hunting!