28 de agosto de 2023

Fiddler Crab Guide: Pacific Coast of the Americas

Fiddler Crabs of the Pacific Coast of the Americas (partial)

The previous guides were all designed to be "complete", thus the decisions on what areas were chosen. This guide will not be complete as I don't currently have enough info on every species in the region to definitively describe how to distinguish each of them. I'm writing this now, however, because some guidelines will be more useful than none and it could be a long time before we have enough knowledge to create a complete guide.
This guide is designed for identification “in the field” where you might be looking at live crabs by eye or through binoculars or from photographs. I will generally try to avoid characters that will require you to physically catch the crab, although I may mention a few for secondary verification. It does not include the more strict taxonomist-style characters that may only be visible under a microscope or via dissection. It is also assumed that the individuals are living, as death (and even capture) can cause dramatic color change.
This is a guide to the fiddler crabs of the Pacific coast of the Americas, from Mexico through Chile (a link to a simpler guide for southern California of the USA was previously published). Thirty-six species are found along this coast! We can subdivide the area into a number of regions:
  1. the Pacific coast of Mexico (8 species), which can be further subdivided

    • Pacific Baja and southern California, USA (2 species, see guide mentioned above)
    • Northern Gulf of California (4 species)
    • Southern Gulf of California through SW Mexico (6 species)
  2. the Pacific coast of Central America from Guatemala through northern Peru (31 species), which can be further subdivided

    • northern coastline: Guatemala through Nicaragua (24 species)
    • central coastline: Costa Rica and Panama (30 species)
    • southern coastline: Colombia through northern Peru (24 species)
  3. central Peru through northern Chile (3 species)
  4. Galapagos Islands (2 species)
With more data we would plan on providing separate guides for each region, and possibly each subregion, but at this incomplete stage we'll stick with all as a single block, particularly considering the amount of species overlap among many of these areas.
The full list of species found here (not all of which will be in included in the guide at this time) is:
  1. Leptuca batuenta (Beating Fiddler Crab)
  2. Leptuca beebei (Beebe's Fiddler Crab)
  3. Leptuca coloradensis (Painted Fiddler Crab)
  4. Leptuca crenulata (Mexican Fiddler Crab)
  5. Leptuca deichmanni (Deichmann's Fiddler Crab)
  6. Leptuca dorotheae (Dorothy's Fiddler Crab)
  7. Leptuca festae (Festa's Fiddler Crab)
  8. Leptuca helleri (Heller's Fiddler Crab)
  9. Leptuca inaequalis (Uneven Fiddler Crab)
  10. Leptuca latimanus (Lateral-handed Fiddler Crab)
  11. Leptuca limicola (Pacific Mud Fiddler Crab)
  12. Leptuca musica (Musical Fiddler Crab)
  13. Leptuca oerstedi (Aqua Fiddler Crab)
  14. Leptuca pygmaea (Pygmy Fiddler Crab)
  15. Leptuca saltitanta (Energetic Fiddler Crab)
  16. Leptuca stenodactylus (Narrow-fingered Fiddler Crab)
  17. Leptuca tallanica (Peruvian Fiddler Crab)
  18. Leptuca tenuipedis (Slender-legged Fiddler Crab)
  19. Leptuca terpsichores (Dancing Fiddler Crab)
  20. Leptuca tomentosa (Matted Fiddler Crab)
  21. Leptuca umbratila (Pacific Mangrove Fiddler Crab)
  22. Minuca argillicola (Clay Fiddler Crab)
  23. Minuca brevifrons (Narrow-fronted Fiddler Crab)
  24. Minuca ecuadoriensis (Pacific Hairback Fiddler Crab)
  25. Minuca galapagensis (Galápagos Fiddler Crab)
  26. Minuca herradurensis (La Herradura Fiddler Crab)
  27. Minuca osa (Osa Fiddler Crab)
  28. Minuca zacae (Lesser Mexican Fiddler Crab)
  29. Petruca panamensis (Rock Fiddler Crab)
  30. Uca heteropleura (American Red Fiddler Crab)
  31. Uca insignis (Distinguished Fiddler Crab)
  32. Uca intermedia (Intermediate Fiddler Crab)
  33. Uca monilifera (Necklaced Fiddler Crab)
  34. Uca ornata (Ornate Fiddler Crab)
  35. Uca princeps (Large Mexican Fiddler Crab)
  36. Uca stylifera (Styled Fiddler Crab)
A number of features can be used to distinguish among these species, but a good place to start is to look at the distance between the base of the eyestalks. Fiddler crabs tend to split into two groups, those with the eyestalks very close together (“narrow front”) and those with the eyestalks separated a bit more (“broad front”). In the Americas, all of the narrow-front species are in the genus Uca, while the broad front species are in three other genera. The narrow front species also tend to be much larger than the broad front species. In most cases, whether a species is narrow or broad fronted should be unambiguous.

“Narrow front” / eyestalks are close together

“Broad front” / eyestalks are separated

Narrow front species

Of the seven narrow front species along the coast, all in the genus Uca, at this time three should be easy to identify, two are moderately easy, and two are very difficult. We'll go from easy to hard.

Uca monilifera / Necklaced Fiddler Crab

This species is easy to identify due to the generally powder-blue color of the large claw and carapace; no other species has this coloration. It is also only found in the northern part of the Gulf of California, reducing the number of species it could be confused with (the only narrow-front species it overlaps with is Uca princeps).
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/13589748 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/13589747

Uca stylifera / Styled Fiddler Crab

Another easy species to identify, the primary distinguishing feature in male crabs is a long style coming out of the eye on the same side as the large claw; the style is approximately the same length as the rest of the eyestalk. While some other species will occasionally have styles, they are substantially shorter than those found in Uca stylifera. In addition, the colors of Uca stylifera are distinct: males have a white carapace (in rare instances more yellow than white), yellow eyes, orange-red-to-purple legs, and a large claw with an orange fixed-finger (pollex) and white movable finger (dactyl). Some Uca princeps may be similarly colored, but the two species should be easy to tell apart. Female Uca stylifera are a bit more tricky as they lack the style and tend to be a dull muddy-brown color (you can see a female partially hidden by the male in the first photo below). They're most easily identified by association with the males.

This species ranges from approximately El Salvador through northern Peru.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10074 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/140789885

Uca intermedia / Intermediate Fiddler Crab

This species is only known from the coasts of Panama and Colombia and appears to be very rare; there are only two observations on iNaturalist (one is my own from 1997). If actually found, however, it should be easy to identify as it is uniquely an essentially solid black fiddler crab with a red large claw.



Uca heteropleura / American Red Fiddler Crab

Uca heteropleura should be easy to tell apart from the other species, but in practice it can be confused with some of the color variants of Uca princeps. Uca heteropleura has a predominantly red-to-black carapace and legs (sometimes lightening to white or slightly more purple), with a red lower part of the claw and white movable finger. Its eyestalks are generally black. The large claw tends to have relatively short and stout fingers and is usually noticeably bumpy on the outside of the hand.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/108681451 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/108681448
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10073 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/148447479
While most Uca princeps are very different colored and have claws with relatively longer fingers, some are similarly enough to make them more difficult to distinguish. The primary features to keep an eye on when encountering a red narrow-front crab that might be either species are eyestalk color (I think Uca princeps has yellow eyestalks while Uca heteropleura has black) and the length and shape of the movable finger (the dactyl). In Uca heteropleura the dactyl tends to be shorter relative to the length of the claw, much more curved, and if there is a small tooth/bump on it, the tooth tends to be closer to the tip of the claw. In Uca princeps the dactyl is relatively longer and there is usually small tooth/bump right around the center of the dactyl. The outside of the large claw in Uca heteropleura is almost always noticably rough and bumpy, while in Uca princeps it may be a lot smoother.
Behaviorally, the waving display of Uca heteropleura is extremely different from that of Uca princeps and can be used to identify them in the field, and even sometimes in a still photo. Male Uca heteropleura wave by holding the large claw in front of them then raising their entire body vertically onto the tips of their legs, with the claw held up above them. In contrast, Uca princeps prances back and forth with the the large claw held laterally out to the side. The following photos are a good illustration of the vertical hold position of Uca heteropleura (first row) vs. the more typical side waving of Uca princeps (second row).
Vertical waving of Uca heteropleura
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/21387973 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10073
Lateral waving of Uca princeps
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177912890 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177267896

This species ranges from approximately El Salvador through northern Peru.

Uca princeps / Large Mexican Fiddler Crab

Uca princeps is the most common narrow-front species on the Pacific coast of the Americas, has the longest range (southern California through Chile), and is the most variable in appearance (there is some suggestion it might be a mix of multiple, yet unidentified species).

The most typical colors in this species are pale yellow and orange, with some white. The carapace is typically yellow or fading-to-white, the legs are generally more orange-yellow, and the claw is often a bit brighter orange, with a white movable finger (dactyl).
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177912899 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/120221155
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/108538460 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/77227400

Unfortunately, there is a lot of variation beyond this typical pattern. Carapace and legs may darken to a dark orange or even brown; sometimes the orange shifts to more red, which is when it can become confused with Uca heteropleura. In rare cases the carapace can be dark blue, almost black.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/176868524 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/152290026
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/144049877 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10067
As mentioned above, I believe the eyestalks tend to be pale, much more yellow, as opposed to the dark black eyestalks of Uca heteropleura. The other species that it can be superficially confused with is Uca stylifera as the colors can sometimes converge, but the presence of the long style in males on the eye on the same side as the large claw is diagnostic.

Another character to look for is that the large claw of Uca princeps generally has fingers which are longer than the palm, while in the other species the fingers tend to be the same length or shorter than the palm.

Uca ornata / Ornate Fiddler Crab & Uca insignis / Distinguished Fiddler Crab

It is very easy to identify a male fiddler from one of these two species, among the largest of all fiddler crabs, because the shape of the large claw is very distinct (only matched worldwide by the Atlantic coast species Uca maracoani). The claw almost resembles pruning shears, with large flattened fingers which meet at a very straight inner edge, and with the upper edge of the movable finger distinctly curved.

Unfortunately it is not clear how to tell them apart from each other. Most of the formal diagnostic characters are subtle and require examination of specimens in a lab setting. There are probably color differences, but written descriptions are inadequate and we lack definitive photos of both species to confidently identify field characters at this time. All of the species shown below are listed on iNaturalist as Uca ornata but without more color information Uca insignis looks more-or-less the same with respect to size and shape.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10065 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/67921229
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/167149248 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/175547390

Broad front species

Many of the twenty-nine broad front species along the coast are difficult to distinguish, but I'll describe key characters for those where we have good data. One of the species is in its own genus, Petruca which will be described first. The rest are split between two other genera. As a general rule, species in the genus Minuca tend to have very broad fronts while those in the genus Leptuca tend to have narrower broad-fronts (medium fronts?) but there is overlap among species in the two genera so front breadth by itself is not an absolute indicator of the genus. In addition, the Minuca species tend to be larger than the Leptuca species, although there is overlap once again. As a rule of thumb, though, larger species with particularly broad fronts are probably Minuca while very small species with narrower (but not very narrow and pinched) fronts are probably Leptuca.

Petruca panamensis / Rock Fiddler Crab

Petruca panamensis is distinguishable primarily by its environment, rather than a physical character: it is the only species of fiddler crab in the world that lives predominantly in and among large rocks, rather than the more typical mud or sand substrate that all other fiddlers live upon. If you find a species waving on top of a large rock, it's probably this species, which is found from approximately El Salvador through northern Peru.


The species is not particularly visually distinct, although it tends to have a flatter carapace than other species, and the large claw seems particularly smooth and relatively featureless.

Leptuca batuenta / Beating Fiddler Crab

Found from approximately El Salvador to northern Peru, the smallest of all fiddler crab species, often only about 5-6mm in breadth, this species is easy to overlook due to its size. If seen, however, it is surprisingly easy to identify due to the unique shape of the large claw. Specifically, the lower/fixed finger (pollex) has a distinct tooth pattern where the pollex curves upward to this tooth about 3/4 of the way along the pollex, then curves back down with a concave edge to a point. The claw is generally white, while the limbs tend to be brown-red.


Leptuca saltitanta / Energetic Fiddler Crab

Another very small fiddler crab (~6mm), found from approximately El Salvador to Colombia, this species is also easily distinguishable from other due to a combination of color and claw shape. It is one of the few species that is essentially solid white (in fact, it's claw and limbs are translucent), with yellow eyestalks. The lower finger (pollex) of the large claw is strikingly thick and triangular, while the upper finger (dactyl) is very thin. While a few other species have a claw of similar shape, they are not solid white.


Behaviorally the species raises the claw up into the air then sharply brings it down to very rapidly drum on the mud surface (it looks like a rapid vibration).

Leptuca inaequalis / Uneven Fiddler Crab

Another very small fiddler crab (~7mm), found from approximately El Salvador to northern Peru, this species is somewhat similar in shape to Leptuca saltitanta, but entirely different colors. The large claw is gray-brown with a dark red/brown patch along the lower edge by the base of the pollex, the fingers are generally white, and there is frequently an orange tint running along the upper edge of the movable finger (dactyl). The gape of the claw is almost always filled with brown mud, because there are small hairs on the upper edge of the first half of the pollex that the mud clings to. The shape of the polllex is not as strikingly triangular as that of Leptuca saltitanta, but does have a very heavy palm with short thick fingers.


Leptuca latimanus / Lateral-handed Fiddler Crab

Leptuca latimanus sort of looks like a cross between the previous two species, Leptuca saltitanta and Leptuca inaequalis, although it's a bit larger than either being 1 cm or larger. It's carapace is predominantly white, with dark legs, and its large claw is a dark brownish-red with pale tips to the fingers. The claw is particularly heavy looking with a very broad palm and very short stubby fingers. The lower finger (pollex) is not triangular as seen in the previous two species. When waving, it's inner arm may show shades of blue. Leptuca latimanus has a broad range, found from Mexico through Ecuador.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/168093656 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/120735011
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/141419032 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/141419032

Leptuca tenuipedis / Slender-legged Fiddler Crab

Leptuca tenuipedis is another very small (5-7 mm) fiddler crab which is shaped somewhat like Leptuca saltitanta and Leptuca inaequalis, but with a different color pattern and a somewhat less triangular pollex. It's body is dull brown/gray, while the claw is orange/red, including the top finger (dactyl) while the lower finger (pollex) is white. The colors of the fingers are reversed from most fiddlers, where--if only a single finger is white--it is usually the upper and not the lower. The only photo on iNaturalist is not particularly diagnostic.


Leptuca oerstedi / Aqua Fiddler Crab

Another small fiddler crab (~1 cm), found from approximately El Salvador to Panama, this species is distinct due to the unique aqua blue coloration that is frequently seen across the entire front of the crab, although not always on the carapace or from the back. The claw also has a distinctive character with a shallow notch at the base of the lower finger (pollex) followed by an almost straight edge to the end of the finger (unfortunately, neither of the photos on iNaturalist shows the claw shape clearly).
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10071 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10071

"Typical" Leptuca

The next set of species are all very similar in size, shape, and structure, so much so that if your removed all color and behavior, they would be very difficult to distinguish in the field. Thankfully, there are distinct color differences for many of them. They are all about 1 cm in width and have a "typical" large claw which is slender with long fingers.

Leptuca terpsichores / Dancing Fiddler Crab

Leptuca terpsichores is another fiddler crab that is usually distinct and easy to identify. When males first come out of their burrows they are generally an innocuous brown-red color, but within 15 minutes or so their color shifts to almost entirely white, except for some pink/purple on the base of the large claw.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/36689104 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/21641124

A more subtle character is found in the small claw; the width of the opening between the fingers (the gape) is particularly large and wide in this species compared to most others.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/97336215 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/39803361
This species lives on sandier beaches, from El Salvador to northern Peru, and is famous for building hoods next to their burrow openings.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10066 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/101431145

There is one additional character unique to only this species and the next one, Leptuca musica, but it is almost impossible to see in the field or in photos without capturing a crab and looking for it (I couldn't find a photo on iNaturalist to illustrate, although I think I've seen it show up once or twice). On the lower edge of the palm of the large claw, these two species uniquely have a series of parallel striae/ridges; behaviorally they rub their legs against these ridges to make sounds. Unfortunately, these are very subtle and unlikely to be seen without actively handling a crab and knowing where to look for them.

Leptuca musica / Musical Fiddler Crab

Tentatively, Leptuca musica has the same shape and structure as Leptuca terpsichores, including in particular the large gape in the small claw and the all-but-impossible-to-see ridges on the lower edge of the large claw, but instead of being white the species is red and pink. It's range is restricted to Mexico and northern Guatemala.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/8606515 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/7926356

One confounding factor is that there is at least one other species in part of its range, Leptuca coloradensis, whose colors are unknown to me at this time and it is possible the colors of the two species might overlap enough to be confused.

Leptuca stenodactylus / Narrow-fingered Fiddler Crab

Leptuca stenodactylus ranges from El Salvador to Chile, and like Leptuca terpsichores, Leptuca stenodactylus tends to be found on sandier substrates. The two species frequently overlap and intermix. Although about the same size and shape, their colors are quite different, with Leptuca stenodactylus one of the more colorful species along the coast, having a blue carapace, bright red legs, and a claw with pink or white.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/6148920 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/20767845
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/81601111 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/153522170

The gape of the small claw of Leptuca stenodactylus is wider than in most other species, although less so than that found in Leptuca stenodactylus.

Leptuca beebei / Beebe's Fiddler Crab

Leptuca beebei is one of the more common species along the coast, ranging from El Salvador to northern Peru, but is less colorful and striking than those already described. It's carapace is generally a mix of dull green or blue or brown, the large claw is often pale gray or white but with a dark purple/burgundy patch at the base of the fixed finger, and its eyestalks tend to be yellow. It is more of a mud/sand generalist than many of the other species described so far and will often overlap in space with a lot of them as it seems to be less picky about the substrate it lives on.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/111703393 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/92607057
Similar to Leptuca terpsichores, Leptuca beebei frequently builds structures next to its burrows, but instead of large overhanging hoods it builds smaller pillars.

Behaviorally, Leptuca beebei has a very classic wave where it moves the claw out to its side then brings it up and back to its front in a come-hither sort of gesture. This is particularly useful when distinguishing it from the next species, Leptuca deichmanni.

Leptuca deichmanni / Deichmann's Fiddler Crab

Superficially, Leptuca deichmanni looks very similar to Leptuca beebei, although it's claw tends to be more solid white and lacks the purple/burgundy patch. It prefers sandier substrates (much like Leptuca terpsichores and Leptuca stenodactylus) but can intermix with Leptuca beebei in space. Behaviorally, however, the wave of Leptuca deichmanni is completely different from that of Leptuca beebei. While Leptuca beebei has a circular come-hither sort of wave, that of Leptuca deichmanni has more of a vertical up-and-down motion, with a distinct pause in the up position. Seen side-by-side they are noticeably different.

Unfortunately, there are no good photos of this species on iNaturalist.

Leptuca dorotheae / Dorothy's Fiddler Crab

There are no observations of this species on iNaturalist and I have never seen a living individual from this species, in person or photo. It is described as extremely similar to Leptuca beebei. It's carapace is supposed to generally be olive-green, speckled with yellow, with a brownish-red to wine-red major claw, except for a generally white upper finger (Note; I have often found these written descriptions of species which I know fairly well to not be particularly representative). It is found from Costa Rica to northern Peru.

Leptuca festae / Festa's Fiddler Crab

Leptuca festae can be a bit larger than the other species combined under "typical" Leptuca, ranging up to 1.5 cm. It is generally a dull brown or brown-gray color, with yellow eyestalks, and only slight whitening of the claw. For it's size, it tends to have substantially longer fingers on the major claw than the other species. It is found from El Salvador to Ecuador.


Leptuca coloradensis / Painted Fiddler Crab

Leptuca coloradensis is only found in the Gulf of California, which limits to a certain extent the species it can be confused with. All or most of the observations on iNaturalist have a bit of a "must be this by default" feel to them, i.e., it's coloration doesn't really match that of two of the other similarly shaped species in the region, Leptuca crenulata or Leptuca musica. Assuming these identifications are correct, Leptuca coloradensis is a reddish species with an orange claw with yellowish fingers. Leptuca crenulata is not predominantly red and Leptuca musica is more vividly pink. Also, the minor claw of Leptuca coloradensis does not show the extra broad gape that is found in Leptuca musica.


Leptuca crenulata / Mexican Fiddler Crab

Leptuca crenulata is a common species along the coast of Mexico, reaching northward into southern California in the USA. In some sense, iNaturalist seems to view it as the default species for fiddlers along the Mexican coast. It is often described as a fairly dull and boring species. It's colors are predominantly tan and beige, with some gray or white, and occasionally a touch of green or pink. Of the >1100 observations of this species on iNaturalist, >900 are from southern California, which says a lot more about user usage on iNaturalist than the actual distribution of this species.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177769749 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/177267886
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/171342399 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/117969451

Leptuca umbratila / Pacific Mangrove Fiddler Crab

There are no photos of this species on iNaturalist, but it should be distinguishable by a particularly narrow front for an otherwise broad-fronted fiddler. Basically it has a front that is only moderately broader than the narrow-fronted Uca described earlier, but without the pinched look between the eyes that those species have. A similar species on the Atlantic coast of the Americas is Leptuca thayeri, although I do not know if the colors are remotely similar.

Leptuca helleri / Heller's Fiddler Crab

As one of only two species found in the Galapagos and the only species restricted to those islands (ironically, Minuca galapagensis is also found on the mainland), one would think this species would be easy to identify. However, there are no color descriptions of this species, which makes most identification based on "not galapagensis". The basic physical difference between the two species is that Leptuca helleri should have a narrower-front than Minuca galapagensis, but this is often difficult to use in a vacuum. Leptucah helleri is also a lot smaller, around 1 cm in width while Minuca galapagensis may be almost double that size, but while useful in the field, size is frequently hard to determine in a photo.
Both species can be white, although Minuca galapagensis will frequently have an orange claw, while that of Leptuca helleri would be more white. Another frequent color in Leptuca helleri is a pale green. Darker individuals, particularly those that lack orange, are probably Leptuca helleri.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/59721274 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2847360
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/166131733 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/4212927
Supposedly the two species never intermix on the islands; at any given location you will find one or the other, but apparently not both. In fact, there is some suggestion they rarely are found even on the same island. If this is true, based on iNaturalist observations one might expect to find the following pattern among the islands:
  • Isla Santa Cruz: both species present
  • Isla Isabella: most photos on this island appear to be M. galapagensis but a few are almost certainly L. helleri
  • Isla de San Cristobal: predominantly L. helleri, but one observation might be M. galapagensis
  • Isla Genovesa: L. helleri
  • Isla Floreana: M. galapagensis
  • Isla Santiago: M. galapagensis

Other Leptuca

There are no known observations of any of the following species on iNaturalist and I do not know enough about them to feel comfortable attempting to describe how to identify them at this time:
  • Leptuca limicola / Pacific Mud Fiddler Crab
  • Leptuca pygmaea / Pygmy Fiddler Crab
  • Leptuca tallanica / Peruvian Fiddler Crab
  • Leptuca tomentosa / Matted Fiddler Crab


Unlike many of the Leptuca which come in a variety of shapes, particularly with respect to the large claw, most of the Minuca are shaped more-or-less similarly, leaving only color or behavior as possible field characters. This makes most of them generally harder to distinguish from each other.

Minuca zacae / Lesser Mexican Fiddler Crab

Minuca zacae is the odd-ball species among the Minuca, being particularly small (~ 1 cm) and having a thick handed-claw with relatively shorter fingers. It is described as having a dark carapace with gold and black marbling, a red-brown to orange-pink claw, with white fingers. Although the size and shape of the claw should be enough to identify it, the challenge is that it can resemble juveniles of other species. It is found from Mexico to Costa Rica.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/135310455 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/135310455
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/101428524 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/135310453

Minuca ecuadoriensis / Pacific Hairback Fiddler Crab

Minuca ecuadoriensis can be a confusing species and seems to come in a variety of different color forms, which may or may not be due to multiple species being mixed together (in addition to just mistaken IDs, there was a short scientific paper many years ago that suggested that Minuca ecuadoriensis was actually a complex of three different species; unfortunately, there has never been a follow-up to that paper to actually describe them so we're left with some confusion). The species is found from Mexico through northern Peru.
The one color morph of this species that is easy to identify is a broad-front species which is all or mostly a dark red color, with white fingers.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/143019540 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/143018769
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/128202760 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2577751
Other crabs identified as this species are often brown, lacking the distinct red color although usually with the whitish fingers. I am not positive if these IDs are correct or not.

Minuca argillicola / Clay Fiddler Crab

This is an obscure species only known from Costa Rica and Panama. It is predominantly beige and known for being very lethargic and inactive. It is thought to primarily live on river banks with heavy clay concentrations, which is probably the easiest way to identify it, as it is otherwise a fairly generic looking fiddler crab. The only observation on iNaturalist (my own) has a very poor photo (crab at the top, left side).


Minuca osa / Osa Fiddler Crab

Another obscure species, currently known from only two bays, one in Costa Rica and one in Panama, the limited living photos of this species show a crab with a mottled black and white back and orange limbs, including the large claw. The mottled black and white carapace is very common among species along the Indian Ocean and western Pacific, but may be unique to this species along the eastern Pacific coastline. There are no observations currently on iNaturalist.

Minuca galapagensis / Galápagos Fiddler Crab

Despite it's name, the Galápagos Fiddler Crab is found in both the Galápagos and along the coast of the Americas from southern Nicaragua to Chile (unlike Leptuca helleri which is only found in the Galápagos). Thus, identifying this species in the Galápagos should be easier, while identifying it along the coast may be a lot harder.
Potentially the most distinct feature in identifying this species is it appears to be one of the few Minuca which is predominantly white. The "canonical" coloration of this species appears to be a mostly white (or pale beige) body with a more orange claw (sometimes more yellow-orange, sometimes more red-orange). Unfortunately, other individuals may be more dull brown, orange, or a mix, confusing identification as this starts to look a lot more like other Minuca species. While Minuca argillicola may be predominantly white as well, it lacks the orange of the claw and is thought to be restricted to clay embankments.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/155006637 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/151262446
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/143951339 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/66145831

Minuca herradurensis / La Herradura Fiddler Crab

Minuca herradurensis is found from El Salvador through Panama and is not particularly well known, other than it is supposed to be very similar to Minuca galapagensis, but possibly without the striking white color (more "pale buff") and without an orange phase. This is not particularly distinctive and the two species overlap in their ranges. A limited number of solid observations on iNaturalist are not enough to draw conclusions about color patterns.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/117527273 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/117525450

Minuca brevifrons / Narrow-fronted Fiddler Crab

The last Minuca species, although found from Mexico to Panama, seems to be obscure and I have never seen a definitive photo of this species nor do I have a feel for what it looks like relative to others it may overlap with. Written descriptions based on only two to three individuals, described the (only observed in the wild) female as a bright coral red (orange red) color and the males as having a carapace that was dark brown/red with black marbling and brown-to-orange pink claws and limbs, with white fingers.
Posted on segunda-feira, 28 de agosto de 2023, 21:45h by msr msr | 3 comentários | Deixar um comentário

03 de maio de 2023

Fiddler Crab Guide: Mainland China and Hainan

Fiddler Crabs of Mainland China and Hainan

This guide is designed for identification “in the field” where you might be looking at live crabs by eye or through binoculars or from photographs. I will generally try to avoid characters that will require you to physically catch the crab, although I may mention a few for secondary verification. It does not include the more strict taxonomist-style characters that may only be visible under a microscope or via dissection. It is also assumed that the individuals are living, as death (and even capture) can cause dramatic color change.

This particular guide was aided by a guide in Chinese written by Chengyi Liu and colleagues which can be found here.
This is a guide to the fiddler crabs of mainland China and the island of Hainan. While there is overlap, it would not serve as a full guide for more distant islands or Taiwan. Nine primary species are found within this region:
All of these species are found in Hainan and most are found along the southern coast of China, but many do not extend all the way north. Specific distributions will be mentioned for each species.
A few other species have been reported from this region, but are either extremely rare or represent very questionable records.
A number of features can be used to distinguish among these species, but a good place to start is to look at the distance between the base of the eyestalks. Fiddler crabs tend to split into two groups, those with the eyestalks very close together (“narrow front”) and those with the eyestalks separated a bit more (“broad front”). Three of these species (Austruca annulipes, Austruca lactea, and Paraleptuca splendida) are broad front species, while the other six (the two Gelasimus and four Tubuca) are narrow front species. Note that the carapace between the eyestalks appears pinched together in the narrow front species, but more trapezoidal in the broad front species.

“Narrow front” / eyestalks are close together

“Broad front” / eyestalks are separated

Broad front species

The three broad front species are fairly easy to tell apart. Paraleptuca splendida is fairly distinct, while the two Austruca or more similar to each other but still generally have obvious color differences, particularly among the males (females in isolation may be more difficult).

Paraleptuca splendida / Splendid Fiddler Crab

Paraleptuca splendida are the easiest of the three broad front species to identify. The carapace is generally a marbled aqua (blue) and black, sometimes with a patch of red behind the eyes; occasionally the blue fades to more of a tan color. The legs are usually red (although sometimes more blue/tan/black striped). The major claw of the males is red, with paler pink fingers. Most importantly, the eyestalks are almost always red or red-tinted. A broad-front with red eyestalks is generally sufficient to identify this species.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/143994891 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/49111680
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/130472404 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/130640798

Within China, Paraleptuca splendida is found along the southern Chinese coastline as far north as the Fujian Province.

Austruca lactea / Milky Fiddler Crab

Along most of the Chinese coastline, the only other broad front species is Austruca lactea, however the closely related species Austruca annulipes is also found on Hainan Island, so care must be used in distinguishing these in that region.

The carapace of Austruca lactea is generally either white or white with black (dark brown) markings, generally a small scattered speckling of black, frequently with a few thin stripes (kind of like a Rorschach test). In rare occasions the carapace will be more black than white. The legs are generally either white or red (ranging from dark to bright). Eyestalks are generally white or gray. The major cheliped is generally entirely white, or with yellow extending from the arm up into the hand of the claw, but usually still white along the fingers.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/105430647 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/84839580
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/29952447 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/86009978
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/67239836 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91979112

The species Austruca perplexa can be very similar in appearance to Austruca lactea, but it is all but unknown from mainland China and purported observations of it are likely either errors or rare, stray individuals rather than established populations. I'm not going to include a full description here, but it is primarily distinguishable by differences in the coloration pattern of the carapace (as well as some very subtle shape differences).

Austruca annulipes / Ring-legged Fiddler Crab

Austruca annulipes is a widespread, highly variable species; within the covered region in this guide, it is primarily found on Hainan Island, with potentially some scattered observations on the mainland. Although they are fairly similar, under most circumstances one should be able to tell the two Austruca species apart without too much trouble.

The primary character that distinguishes the two species is the color of the major cheliped. In Austruca annulipes it tends to range from red to orange or pink, rather than the white and yellow colors found in Austruca lactea. As with Austruca lactea, the carapace of Austruca annulipes tends to be a mix of white and black (dark brown), but unlike the previous species, the carapace of Austruca annulipes is generally more an even mix of both colors, learning toward the darker rather than the lighter, although there are some cases of almost entirely white carapaces. In other individuals, the carapace of Austruca annulipes may contain blue rather than white. The legs of the two species are similar in color, usually either red or a mix of white and black.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/87553367 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/115394149
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/95847131 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/147625478
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/124384209 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/126685655

Narrow front species

Of the six narrow front species, two are fairly distinct (Tubuca typhoni and Tubuca paradussumieri), while the other four form two pairs of similar looking species.

Tubuca typhoni / Typhoon Fiddler Crab

Tubuca typhoni is a fairly distinct, poorly known species (there are only a handful of observations of it on iNaturalist), only found in Hainan (and parts of the Philippines). Superficially it is similar in color to Paraleptuca splendida, but the two species are quite different even beyond the broad front vs. narrow front distinction.

Tubuca typhoni has a black and blue-to-purple carapace, with much more solid patches than the striping found in Paraleptuca splendida. In females, the carapace may be more of a solid reddish-purple. It's legs and eyestalks are generally a reddish-purple; it's major claw is a similar color with some whitening along the tips of the fingers. The shape of the major claw is often more distinctly bowed than in Paraleptuca splendida and the ends of the fingers often end in a pair of flat surfaces rather than pointier tips. Eyestalk colors ranges from purple to red to gray.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42842928 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/121487628
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42842928 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/42842928

Tubuca paradussumieri / Spined Fiddler Crab

Tubuca paradussumieri, found along most of the coast of China, is a strangely variable species, but still frequently identifiable in each of its varying forms. In one common form, adults are generally a rather dull color, with a faded blue-tan carapace (sometimes light, sometimes dark) and generally yellow-tan major claw. The shape of the claw in this form is quite distinct with extremely long fingers relative to other fiddler crabs. The claw shape alone can be used to identify the species in this form.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/113468331 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/85049737
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/92216414 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/147827060

In contrast to the dull colors of these large adults, younger individuals in this species can be a brilliant cobalt blue, with much more typical-shaped claws lacking the overly long fingers. Some other related species from the genus Tubuca might also have a similar blue phase, so it is unclear how readily identifiable individuals of this shade are to the species level.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/150167301 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/64019289
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/35844615 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/124228917

Tubuca arcuata / Bowed Fiddler Crab

Tubuca arcuata is among the most common fiddler crabs found in China and the Northwestern Pacific. The species is is most likely to be confused with, Tubuca acuta, will be described next.

The carapace of Tubuca arcuata is usually a mix of white and black, sometimes red and black, although in some individuals it may appear more solid white, black, or red. The black markings tend to be in large patches, often with a large stripe across the middle of the carapace and a second stripe toward the back of the carapace. The black sections will often appear speckled with the background color. In rarer instances, the white may appear more as a pale blue, particularly in juveniles; this blue is much paler than the bright blue of Tubuca paradussumieri. They generally have yellowish eyestalks with dark eyes.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/84736888 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/74510474
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/91376620 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/17316519
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/71277696 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/65762162
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/14636186 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/30365582
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/46953729 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/50856564
The limbs of Tubuca arcuata are usually red, sometimes black. The large claw is very robust, with distinct bumps on the outside. It is generally red, with white fingers. The fingers are usually distinctly curved and frequently meet with at the tips with flat inner surfaces. There will frequently be a distinct tooth about midway along the lower finger, and occasionally on the upper.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/52567386 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19669397
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/129574778 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/65061727

Tubuca acuta / Acute Fiddler Crab

Tubuca acuta is generally similar in appearance to the more common Tubuca arcuata, with overall similar colors. As with the previous species, the carapace of Tubuca acuta is generally a mix of black and white, but the primary difference is in the patterning of the colors. In Tubuca arcuata there are commonly large patches of black on white, while the carapace of Tubuca acuta is more uniformly speckled. Contrast the photos below of Tubuca acuta with those of Tubuca arcuata above.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/57415985 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/126785018
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/117287843 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/57340919
The limbs of Tubuca acuta tend to be black and white, but sometimes red, and the claw color tends to be an orange-red with white fingers. The claw structure is similar to Tubuca arcuata, but usually a bit less robust and smoother looking (less obvious bumps on the outside of the claw).
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/57415980 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/156702243
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/156675238 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/149628492

Tubuca arcuata can grow substantially larger than Tubuca acuta (approximately 3.5 vs 2.5 cm toward the upper end of their normal size range), but there is enough overlap that size will generally not be useful to distinguish them except for perhaps the very largest Tubuca arcuata. Both species are found essentially along the entirety of the Chinese coast, although Tubuca arcuata appears to be the much more common species.

Gelasimus borealis / Northern Calling Fiddler Crab

Along most of the Chinese coastline, Gelasimus borealis should be easy to tell apart from other species. Only on Hainan, where it overlaps with another closely related species is there likely to be any confusion (see below for discussion).

Gelasimus borealis can be distinguished from most other species by both color and the structure of the large claw in males. The claw has a distinct shape only found in (most) species of the genus Gelasimus. Specifically, the upper finger tends to be moderately broad, tapering smoothly to a point, while the lower finger will usually curve upwards with a characteristic wave on the inner surface highlighting one to two large teeth. Individuals with regenerating claws will often lack much of this shape, but the claw still looks readily different from other species in the region.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/109119418 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/73825799
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/119401703 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/90137252
The color of Gelasimus borealis also differs from all of the other species (outside of Hainan). The carapace generally appears much more solidly colored or lightly marbled, rather than with the more dramatic patterns of other species; the color is frequently green or dark brown or white. The lower finger of the claw is typically yellow-green or orange, with the upper finger white or pink. The species entirely lacks the red common to all of the other narrow front species described so far (the orange on the claw will sometimes be reddish).
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/81448028 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/139230201
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/86111408 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/78322495

Gelasimus vocans / Calling Fiddler Crab

A second species of Gelasimus can be found on Hainan, Gelasimus vocans, with some suggestion that it is spreading to other parts of southern China, such as Hong Kong. It and the previous species, Gelasimus borealis, are extremely similar, so much so that we lack reliable means of differentiating them in the field. There are some subtle differences, however, that may allow identification in some cases. On males of Gelasimus vocans with classic, unregenerated large claws, the tooth pattern on the lower finger is more striking and pronounced that found in Gelasimus borealis, where the teeth are never as striking; unfortunately regenerated claws are more likely to overlap in shape and structure across the two species. Compare more dramatic shape of lower finger of claw on the below photos to the more subtle shape of the previous species.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/77432876 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/159372525
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/8860498 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/123692080
Another subtle difference which can also be seen in the above photos is that the color of Gelasimus borealis tends to be more dull, while that of Gelasimus vocans tends to be more bright and bold. Contrast the shades of orange on the claws of the two species.
A final very subtle difference which is difficult to see in the field and most photos is in the shape of the small claw on males (and both claws of females). In Gelasimus vocans the gap between the fingers of the small claw tends to be as wide or wider than the lower finger, while on Gelasimus borealis this gap tends to be narrower than the lower finger.
Gelasimus borealis has a narrower gap between the fingers of the small claw, generally smaller than the lower (fixed) finger Gelasimus vocans has a wider gap between the fingers of the small claw, generally larger than the lower (fixed) finger
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/57335197 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/116291292
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/107554713 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/77432876
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/29231829 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19285493
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/96976387 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/77759290
Posted on quarta-feira, 03 de maio de 2023, 19:00h by msr msr | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

19 de agosto de 2022

Fiddler Crab Guide: East Africa

Fiddler Crabs of East Africa

This guide is designed for identification “in the field” where you might be looking at live crabs by eye or through binoculars or from photographs. I will generally try to avoid characters that will require you to physically catch the crab, although I may mention a few for secondary verification. It does not include the more strict taxonomist-style characters that may only be visible under a microscope or via dissection. It is also assumed that the individuals are living, as death (and even capture) can cause dramatic color change.

This is a guide to the fiddler crabs of East Africa, from South Africa in the south through southern Somalia in the north, including Madagascar, the Seychelles, Comoros, Mayotte, Mauritius, and Réunion. Six species are found within this region:
A number of features can be used to distinguish among these species, but a good place to start is to look at the distance between the base of the eyestalks. Fiddler crabs tend to split into two groups, those with the eyestalks very close together (“narrow front”) and those with the eyestalks separated a bit more (“broad front”). Three of these species (Austruca occidentalis, Cranuca inversa, and Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus) are broad front species, while the other three (the two Gelasimus and Tubuca urvillei) are narrow front species. The eyestalks of Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus are fairly close together and barely qualify as “broad front”.

“Narrow front” / eyestalks are close together

“Broad front” / eyestalks are separated

Broad front species

Cranuca inversa / Inversed Fiddler Crab

Male Cranuca inversa should be the easiest of any of the species to identify so long as one can get a good look at the large claw. In this species, the tip of the dactyl (the upper finger) on the large claw has a forked shape which is completely unique to this species. Compare the tip of the upper finger of the claw in the “broad front” photo above to those in the four photos below. While the colors of the crabs are very similar, the shape of the tip of the dactyl is distinctly different.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/73491591 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18730511
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18258981 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/49297008
Beyond the shape of the dactyl tip, the “hand” and arm of the large claw tend to be pale pink, while the fingers are usually white. The carapace is generally a mix of black and white, usually although not always with more black than white. Unfortunately, this color scheme is very similar to the next species, so without a good view of the claw, it can be very hard to distinguish between them in the field. To my knowledge, there is no reliable way to tell females of the two species apart in the field.

Austruca occidentalis / East African Fiddler Crab

Austruca occidentalis looks a lot like Cranuca inversa. The carapace is predominantly black and white, with more black than white and the claw is often pink. The key feature is that the tip of the dactyl in Austruca occidentalis comes to a more “normal” point rather than the unique fork found in Cranuca inversa. Austruca occidentalis appears to have more color variation, however. In some males the claw is more red or orange rather than pink and the dactyl may be less white and closer to the same color as the rest of the claw. The color pattern of the carapace is subtly different between the two species as well: Austruca occidentalis tends to have smaller, more spotted markings while Cranuca inversa tends to have elongated, more stripe-like markings; I wouldn’t feel comfortable making identification solely on this pattern, however.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/38981491 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/9262381
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/578653 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/9431179

Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus / Green-eyed Fiddler Crab

Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus should be readily distinguishable from the other two broad front species because its carapace is predominantly blue with black markings, although sometimes it will be nearly solid one or the other color. Its legs are frequently bright red (although occasionally darkening to almost black), and the large arm and claw tend to be bright red, with only partial whitening on the fingers. The eyestalks are usually yellow-green.

Compared to the previous two species, the large claw tends to appear a bit thicker and heavier, particularly with regard to the shape of the fingers.
For a broad front species, Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus has a relatively narrow front, so much so that the species it is most likely to be confused with is one of the narrow front species, Gelasimus tetragonon, described next.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/105022204 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/58819159
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/58819157 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/67095501
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18258684 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/106091778

Narrow front species

Gelasimus tetragonon (Tetragonal Fiddler Crab)

Narrow front Gelasimus tetragonon

Broad front Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus

Gelasimus tetragonon is a wide-spread species that can be confused with Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus, despite the latter being a broad front species and the former being a narrow front species, as Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus is a relatively narrow fronted broad front species. Both species have predominantly blue and black carapace and tend to have bright red legs (which occasionally may be darker). Gelasimus tetragonon tends to have gray eyestalks, as opposed to the more yellow-green of Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus.
For males, the large claws of these species tend to be different. While the large claw of Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus tends to be dominated by red, that of Gelasimus tetragonon is more likely to be orange, with a noticeably darker red spot near the base of the pollex. The dactyl of Gelasimus tetragonon is more likely to be mostly white, while in Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus it tends to be more red. Gelasimus tetragonon frequently has brown spots on the top part of the hand of the claw; these spots are never present in Paraleptuca chlorophthalmus.

Gelasimus tetragonon has a lot of additional variability that does not overlap with other local species. In some places the carapace can lighten so that there is almost no blue, just a cream or pale orange with black markings. The pattern of the colors on the carapace can vary from stripes or blotches to tiny spots.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/64160983\ https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/66985053\
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/67192392 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19029852
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/40014105 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/97981509
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/67599172 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/65173309

Tubuca urvillei (d’Urville’s Fiddler Crab)

Superficially, Tubuca urvillei may seem similar to the previous two species as it is also a narrow front species with a predominantly dark blue carapace with black markings and a large claw with orange-red and white colors. This superficial description fails to convey some rather striking differences that usually make it easy to pick out from the previous two.

While the carapace of Tubuca urvillei is blue and black, it tends to have less complex patterning and more solid colors relative to the previous two species; in some cases it may appear almost solid dark blue. The shade of blue of Tubuca urvillei tends to be darker, with the other two a bit brighter or aqua, although this is not universal. Tubuca urvillei tends to have black or blue legs, and even if pale, they are never red.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/11109457 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5073575
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/5073575 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/25370185
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/35123891 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/22895957
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/111128228 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/106091776
Color-wise the claw of Tubuca urvillei is similar to that of Gelasimus tetragonon with an orange or brown-orange hand, frequently with a darker orange-red patch at the base of the pollex, with the entire dactyl and the latter half of the pollex predominantly white. However, it is structurally somewhat different. Tubuca urvillei has a more robust appearing claw, with clear, large tubercles (bumps) covering most of the outer part of the hand. The fingers are noticeably thicker and tend to be less pointed than the previous species, often having a noticeable flat edge along the lower tip of the dactyl. It may be hard to see through binoculars in the field, but Tubuca urvillei also has a clear deep groove running along much of the length of the pollex. You can see this in the photos in the first column above (particularly, the first three).

Gelasimus hesperiae (Western Calling Fiddler Crab)

Gelasimus hesperiae is a narrow front species with a white or pale greenish-brown carapace and a distinctively shaped large claw. It never has any blue and should be readily distinguishable from all of the other species. The dactyl on the large claw is usually white or pink, while the rest of the claw usually ranges from orange to pale yellow. The dactyl is relatively thick and straight for about half its length before clearly curving to a thick point. The pollex will frequently have two very clear large teeth, one about midway along the length and one near the tip, although one or both can be absent. Like Tubuca urvillei, it has large bumps (tubercles) on the hand of the claw and will often have a noticeable groove along the base of the pollex.

https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/67192391 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/47636654
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/9890177 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/56720520
Posted on sexta-feira, 19 de agosto de 2022, 21:37h by msr msr | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

17 de agosto de 2022

Fiddler Crab Guide: Southern California, USA

Fiddler Crabs of Southern California, USA

This guide is designed for identification “in the field” where you might be looking at live crabs by eye or through binoculars or from photographs. I will generally try to avoid characters that will require you to physically catch the crab, although I may mention a few for secondary verification. It does not include the more strict taxonomist-style characters that may only be visible under a microscope or via dissection. It is also assumed that the individuals are living, as death (and even capture) can cause dramatic color change.
This is a guide to the fiddler crabs of southern California in the United States. Prior to 2018, only a single species of fiddler crab was found in California. Now there are two known species:
These two species are extremely easy to tell apart and within California they should always be readily identifiable.
The two primary features you should focus on are size and how close the eyestalks are to each other. Uca princeps is substantially larger than Leptuca crenulata, as shown in the following photos:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/32684153 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/13824586
The larger crab in both photos is Uca princeps, while the smaller surrounding crabs are Leptuca crenulata. Leptuca crenulata generally only grows between about 10-15 mm (approx ½ inch) in width (that is the width of the carapace at the front of the crab, from corner to corner), while Uca princeps can reach 35-50 mm (approx. 1 ½ to 2 inches).
Beyond size, another key difference is the relative distance between the eyestalks. Uca princeps is what is known as a “narrow front” fiddler crab, meaning the bases of the eyestalks are close together with only a tiny bit of carapace squeezed between them. In contrast, Leptuca crenulata is what is known as a “broad front” fiddler crab, meaning the bases of the eyestalks are farther apart and there is substantial carapace between them. This difference is very striking as shown in the examples below.

Uca princeps
“Narrow front” / eyestalks are close together

Leptuca crenulata
“Broad front” / eyestalks are separated

While there are other features that can be used to distinguish the two species (e.g., notice the differences in claw shape in the above photos), both size and eyestalk configuration are individually adequate to identify these two species within California in the USA.

Leptuca crenulata is the more common of the two species in California and ranges as far north as Santa Barbara. Uca princeps was only first discovered in southern California in 2018, and while it has been found there every year since, it is substantially rarer and as of now has only been found as far north as Huntington Beach.
Posted on quarta-feira, 17 de agosto de 2022, 03:08h by msr msr | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

Fiddler Crab Guide: West Africa and Europe

This is part 4 of a series of planned posts about identifying fiddler crabs. Previous entries include:
  1. How to Identify Fiddler Crabs from Photos (or in the field)
  2. Is It a Fiddler Crab?
  3. Fiddler Crabs of the Atlantic Coast of the USA

Fiddler Crabs of West Africa and Europe

This guide is designed for identification “in the field” where you might be looking at live crabs by eye or through binoculars or from photographs. I will generally try to avoid characters that will require you to physically catch the crab, although I may mention a few for secondary verification. It does not include the more strict taxonomist-style characters that may only be visible under a microscope or via dissection. It is also assumed that the individuals are living, as death (and even capture) can cause dramatic color change.

This is a guide to the fiddler crabs of West Africa and Europe. There is only one species, so identification is guaranteed.

Afruca tangeri is the only fiddler crab found in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, including the West coast of Africa, from Angola in the south to Morocco and the Strait of Gibraltar in the north, major islands such as Cape Verde and the Canary Islands, and southwestern Europe, including the southwestern coast of Spain and the southern and southwestern coasts of Portugal. It is not found past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean.
Posted on quarta-feira, 17 de agosto de 2022, 02:53h by msr msr | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

16 de agosto de 2022

Fiddler Crab Guide: Atlantic Coast of the USA

This is part 3 of a series of planned posts about identifying fiddler crabs. Previous entries include:
  1. How to Identify Fiddler Crabs from Photos (or in the field)
  2. Is It a Fiddler Crab?

Fiddler Crabs of the Atlantic Coast of the USA

This guide is designed for identification “in the field” where you might be looking at live crabs by eye or through binoculars or from photographs. I will generally try to avoid characters that will require you to physically catch the crab, although I may mention a few for secondary verification. It does not include the more strict taxonomist-style characters that may only be visible under a microscope or via dissection. It is also assumed that the individuals are living, as death (and even capture) can cause dramatic color change.

This is a guide to the fiddler crabs of the Atlantic coast of the United States north of Florida (from New Hampshire in the north through Georgia in the south). Three species of fiddler crab are found in this region:
In general, these three species can readily be told apart by color, although some individuals can be ambiguous, particularly the female fiddler crabs (those with two small claws, rather than one large and one small).

Leptuca pugilator / Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crab

Leptuca pugilator is generally found on ocean or near-ocean shorelines up and down the coast, particularly in sandier areas. It is the most variable colored of the three species, with a carapace (that is the “shell” covering its back) that can range from appearing almost a solid, very dark blue to almost pure white. More often than not it will be in between these extremes, often with a blotchy/marbled appearance. In some individuals, the outer edges of the carapace may be red or orange.
The key indicator, however, is that there is almost always a patch of purple coloration in the center of the upper half of the carapace. This patch tends to be shaped roughly like a V with the bottom of the letter pointing between the eyes, although the shape of the patch is less important than any evidence of purple. You can see it in every single one of the following photos, even in the ones that appear mostly blue, if you look carefully. This purple coloration is a key indicator; if it is present, then it is this species. Also, if the carapace is at all white it is almost certainly this species (ignoring the presence of dried mud which might make the carapace appear to be white).
The following photos were chosen to demonstrate the range of variation in carapace colors.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/112474878 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/109172261
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/111374875 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/108237300
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/84516743 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/97400063
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/57290165 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/80726667
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/79595789 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/43940001
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/81505656 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/80677001
In contrast, the two Minuca species tend to have carapaces that are more uniform in color, without the wide variation found in Leptuca pugilator.
Like the carapace, both the large and small claws of Leptuca pugilator can vary quite a bit in color, from a dark purple/red to mostly white.

Minuca pugnax / Atlantic Mud Fiddler Crab

Like Leptuca pugilator, Minuca pugnax is generally found on ocean or near-ocean shorelines, but tends to be in muddier areas. Although they will often subdivide a shoreline based on the mud/sand component (i.e., you might find one species in the sandier areas and the other in the muddier areas), it is not uncommon for the two species to intermix and be found together. They are more-or-less the same size, with full-sized adults usually less than 20 mm (¾ inch) wide (that is the width of the carapace at the front of the crab, from corner to corner), so can only be readily distinguished by color (in the absence of capturing them).

Minuca pugnax generally has a carapace that is a dark brown (often with paler speckles), with a very noticeable cobalt blue stripe across the front just behind the eyes. The width of this stripe can vary, but is usually (although not always) present; in rare cases the entire carapace will be blue. The eyestalks will often have some blue tint to them as well. Females are more likely to be solid or nearly solid brown, without the obvious blue tint.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/112330333 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/105988247
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/110164204 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/96972001
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/109337025 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/93912141
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/98540443 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61031876
The large claw of male Minuca pugnax tends to be a yellowish-cream color, with the “hand” of the claw often a bit darker brown. Occasionally the claw will be a bit paler, more gray than yellow, but the yellow-cream color is more typical. The small claw tends to be the same pale yellow. While Leptuca pugilator will often have pale large claws, they lack the yellow tint that is common in Minuca pugnax (compare the colors of the claws of the two species in the previous photos).

Minuca minax / Red-jointed Fiddler Crab

Unlike the other two species, Minuca minax tends to be found farther from the ocean shoreline, generally preferring slightly more brackish (fresh) water and is therefore more likely to be found farther up rivers, as well as farther from the water’s edge. In areas where all three species might coexist, if you consider the layout of the intertidal zone (the area between the water’s edges at high and low tides), Minuca minax will be found in the upper intertidal zone (closer to the high tide edge) while the other two species will be found in the lower intertidal zone (closer to the low tide edge). Although all three species can be found on the same shoreline, it is much less common to find Minuca minax intermingling with the other two. Minuca minax is also notably larger than the other two species, almost double the size on average, with full sized adults reaching 37 mm (1.5 inches). Until you have experience with all three species, however, size can be hard to judge in a vacuum.

Minuca minax has a carapace that tends to be a sort of olive-gray or brown, generally lighter toward the front of the crab and darker toward the back. This color is distinct from that of the other two species.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/98207108 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/78085489
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/90903317 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/80096373
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/87317267 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/78790507
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10907753 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/82034976
Beyond the carapace color, many (although not all) individuals will have one or more distinct red markings along the joints of the legs and the claw. You can see these in many of the previous photos, particularly along the edge of the major dactyl (the movable finger on the large claw) and the outside edge of where the large claw attaches to the male crab’s arm. These markings can appear on other joints as well, including the small claw and the walking legs.
Note that the red markings are essentially highlights on the joints, they are not red limb segments. Some Leptuca pugilator can have reddish limbs, particularly on the large claw; which are very different from the red markings along the joints of Minuca minax.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/106018263 The Leptuca pugilator in this photo has an unusual amount of red along the joints. This color appears to be part of the joint itself, which is quite different than the red markings in the earlier photos of Minuca minax where the red along the various joints are highlights on the fringe of the harder shell covering the limbs, rather than actually within the joints.
Not all Minuca minax will have these red marks along the joints; while the presence of these markings is essentially diagnostic, the absence cannot be used to automatically eliminate the species.
By and large, Minuca pugnax and Minuca minax tend to be less variable than Leptuca pugilator, so within this Atlantic coast region individuals that are not good matches for any of the three are more likely to be Leptuca pugilator than the other two.
Posted on terça-feira, 16 de agosto de 2022, 18:42h by msr msr | 1 comentário | Deixar um comentário

21 de julho de 2022

Fiddler Crab Guide: Is it a fiddler crab?

This part 2 of a series of planned posts about identifying fiddler crabs. A prequel part 1 was previously posted, titled How to Identify Fiddler Crabs from Photos (or in the field). Subsequent entries will be about identifying fiddlers in specific geographic areas.

Is it a fiddler crab?

Generally speaking, it is usually easy to identify whether an unknown crab is a fiddler crab or not. That being said, people often do make mistakes for a variety of reasons. Do an internet search for “fiddler crab” and you’ll find lots of results labeled as such which, in fact, are not.

The key feature of fiddler crabs is that in male fiddler crabs, one of the claws is very large (the major claw) and the other is very small (the minor claw). Females have two small claws resembling those of the minor in the male.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/49829863 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61031876
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/44867063 https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/97960408

Male (top) and female (bottom) of fiddlers from two different species (Afruca tangeri on left, Minuca pugnax on right). Note claw sizes.

Unfortunately, many assume that any claw asymmetry means that a crab is a fiddler crab, but many crustaceans have claws of different sizes. In male fiddler crabs it is simply much more extreme than in the others. For example, the crabs most closely related to fiddlers and most frequently confused with them by people online are the ghost crabs (genus Ocypode). Here is a typical ghost crab:

While the claws are clearly different in both size and shape, they are not nearly as different from each other as those in a male fiddler crab. The smaller claw in the ghost crab is still quite a bit closer in size to the larger claw than you find in a fiddler. Another difference to note are the eyes. They are quite a bit thicker and bigger on the ghost crab than the fiddler crabs above. While eye size and length varies among fiddler crabs, they are never as thick and large as on ghost crabs.

Another feature of fiddler crabs is that the carapace tends to be roughly trapezoidal when seen from above, with the longer edge behind the eyes and the shorter edge at their back.

While it varies among fiddler species (some are more extremely trapezoidal while others are almost square), the carapace is never rounded nor does it have scalloped edges. Ghost crabs have fairly square carapaces.

A final character (less useful in photos) is that fiddler crabs are generally quite small. The very largest species only reach about 5-6 cm (2-2.5 inches) wide (measured across the carapace, the large claw can be a longer), and most species are half of that or smaller (the smallest species are less than 1 cm in width). Most of the other crabs you tend to "see" wandering around beaches are in pools are actually larger than this.

Some other species commonly mistaken for fiddlers include:

Ucides cordatus (Atlantic Mangrove Ghost Crab)

The next closest relative to fiddlers after typical ghost crabs, the carapace is too round, eyestalks are too short and thick, and claws (not seen well in this photo) are too large. Species is also much larger than any fiddler.

Callinectes sapidus (Atlantic Blue Crab)

So many differences that I’m not sure how anyone would confuse them, but it does happen. For this particular comparison the carapace is completely the wrong shape and has scalloping along the front edge. No fiddlers have scalloping.

Sesarma reticulatum (Purple Marsh Crab)

Claws are too large, eyestalks are short and thick and on the outer corners of the carapace, rather than closer to the center.

One group of crabs that can appear very fiddler-like are those in the family Macrophthalimidae, which are found in the Indian Ocean and Western Pacific Oceans. These are more closely related to fiddlers than most of the others mentioned so far (other than the ghost crabs). Not all species in this family are readily confused with fiddlers, but some have similar looking eyestalks and two smallish claws that superficially can be confused for a female fiddler. A closer look shows that the claws are usually a bit too large, the carapace is a somewhat different shape, the body tends to be flatter and thinner than a fiddler, and the legs are usually a bit thicker. It is easy to see how this group causes confusion though as some species are superficially similar.

Finally, I’ll mention that it is not uncommon for people to mix up fiddler crabs with hermit crabs: those crabs famous for living in the shells of other animals (or cans, jars, and other similar litter). Fiddler crabs and hermit crabs look nothing alike, but some people get confused over the common names.
Posted on quinta-feira, 21 de julho de 2022, 19:04h by msr msr | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário

18 de abril de 2022

How to Identify Fiddler Crabs from Photos (or in the field)

With some regularity I get asked about how to identify fiddler crabs and decided maybe it's long past time for me to try to write up an explanation. As with many things, it's not necessarily easy, and takes some practice and experience. In many cases you're more-or-less out of luck when trying to get it to species level. But here is the basic idea.

Start with broad geography

The first thing you should do is take advantage of knowing where the observation was found. There's no point in trying to distinguish between species that can never overlap in nature. In the absolute broadest sense, fiddlers split into three major regions:

  • the Americas, including four genera: Uca, Minuca, Leptuca, Petruca
  • Western Africa and southern Europe: only a single species, Afruca tangeri, so you're already done!
  • Indo-West Pacific (IWP) (coastlines along the Indian Ocean, and the western and central Pacific Ocean), including six genera: Tubuca, Xeruca, Gelasimus, Cranuca, Paraleptuca, Austruca

Within each region there are still a lot of geographic subdivisions you can take advantage of, for example, within the Americas the species on the Atlantic coast are completely distinct from the species on the Pacific coast, so knowing which coast you are on immediately reduces the possible species set (three of the four genera are found on both coasts, though, so you cannot reduce it to genus quite that easily).

The median number of overlapping fiddler crab species in most of the world is five, so for a lot of places you only need to distinguish between five possibilities, which doesn't sound too bad. Unfortunately, there are numerous places where it can be 10 or more, and at the very extreme there are about 29 all in one place! Still, geography helps.

Is it possible to identify a species from a photo with no knowledge of where it came from?

Sometimes, yes! Some species are very distinct in appearance and can be fairly well identified even without knowing where they were from. But geography can help narrow it down a lot for those which are less certain.

If you're trying to narrow down species by a geographic area, I'd suggest using the location guide at fiddlercrab.info. It's by no means perfect, but it's the best guide to fiddler crab geography you'll find. You need to be careful about being too restrictive with geography; the last thing you want to do is eliminate a potential species because it's not known from a particular area as species ranges might be incomplete or change over time. But it's a good starting place to narrow down the species you need to think about.

Look at the distance between the eyestalks

This is one of features that most people aren't aware of, but fiddler crabs roughly fall into two groups: those with eyestalks very close together (narrow-front) and those with eyestalks farther apart (broad-front).

A good example of a narrow-front species

A good example of a broad-front species

Front-breadth is useful because it immediately helps narrow down the possible genus and it's usually fairly unambiguous if you can see where the eyestalks attach to the carapace. In the Americas, all narrow-front species are in the genus Uca, while broad-front species are in the genera Minuca, Leptuca, and Petruca.

In the IWP, narrow-front species are in the genera Tubuca, Xeruca, and Gelasimus, while broad-front species are in the genera Cranuca, Paraleptuca, and Austruca.

While all narrow-front species are basically, obviously narrow, broad-front species can vary from extremely broad to only-kinda-broad. Minuca tend to have the broadest-fronts, but they do overlap with Leptuca and front-breadth can change as crabs get bigger (within a species, the larger the crab, the (relatively) farther the eyestalks tend to be).

Front-breadth doesn't always help you (all fiddler crabs in the United States are broad-front) but it's an easy starting place.

Look at the shape of the large claw

Another character than can sometimes be useful is the shape of the large claw. Obviously this does not work on female fiddler crabs (which have two small claws). Also, a lot of species, particularly in the Americas have what I would call a fairly generic claw shape. Some examples are here, here, and here. Again, this character is essentially useless in most of the United States where pretty much all species have this same generic claw shape.

In other parts of the world, however, claws can vary quite a bit and can help narrow it down to genus or a subset of species. Some examples:

  • Pruning-shears: I've never been sure how to describe this shape, but it is extremely distinct when you see it. Kind of like rounded pruning shears. Only a small number of species in the genus Uca have claws shaped like this.
  • the "classic" vocans: there is a group of closely related species that often have a fairly distinct shape to their large claw, a good example of which is here. The upper finger starts off slightly thicker, curves upwards along its lower edge, before going back down to more of a point. The lower finger has two distinct, large "teeth". This particular shape is really only seen in the genus Gelasimus. Not all species in the genus have claws that shape, but if a crab does have a claw with that shape, it's probably in that genus.
  • a group of species in the genus Tubuca mostly, although not entirely, restricted to Australia often have claws which appear to have particularly flat surfaces, often with curving fingers and with a very distinct extension on the last quarter or so of the lower finger, as shown here
  • some species have very distinctly shaped claws, e.g., with very short fingers relative to the rest of the claw, such as this one or a very triangular lower finger such as this one. These tend to be very tiny species that most people don't even see unless they're actively looking for them, but if you do see one the unique shape of the claw makes them a lot easier to identify.

As with any other trait, the usefulness of claw shape depends a lot on where you are. For example, on the east coast of Africa there are two species from different genera that are superficially very similar looking (Austruca occidentalis and Cranuca inversa) as they can sometimes be very similar in color and size. However, if you can get a good look at the tip of the upper finger on the large claw, they are easily distinguishable, as Cranuca inversa has a unique forked shape on the tip.


Color is the final big player, with a number of caveats. First, in many species, individuals can change their color over the course of an hour or two, often going from darker to lighter as they get more active and it gets hotter. Second, some species are extremely variable in color, while others seem to be more fixed. Some of this might be geographic variation, but there can be a lot of variation even within a single place. Third, younger crabs may be different colors than older crabs, and males and females may have very different color patterns. Finally, for a lot of species we just don't have good descriptions of color that allow for diagnosis. This is the biggest barrier to identifying most species from photos.

So what colors should you focus on? For the most part, colors of the large claw (in males) and colors on the back of the carapace. In a few instances you might be able to use leg or eyestalk color to distinguish species, but this is less usual.

For the claws, you're focusing on things like the color of the fingers and are there obvious patches of different color (e.g., frequently a darker purple or red patch near the base of the lower finger).

For the carapace you're looking not just at the basic color, but more often than not, also patterns. Is it solid, is it striped or blotchy, is the color a gradient? All of these can help distinguish species. Occasionally a species will have a distinct color pattern that makes it stand out or readily distinguishable from others. Other times it's more of a gestalt that you get a feel for with experience.


All fiddler crabs are small, with the largest only being about 5 cm in width, and most species being between 2-3 cm wide. There is a lot of variation among species, though, with some tending to be small and others tending to be large. Size is generally not determinable from photos, but if you are in the field and/or can tell the size, it is another feature that might allow you to narrow down possible species.

The smallest fiddler species are under 1 cm in width and rarely show up on iNaturalist because they are too small for most people to even notice and/or photograph. In other cases, though, size can be useful. For example, on the east coast of the US, Minuca minax is noticeably larger than the other two species (which are roughly the same size as each other) and once you get a feel for their sizes, can readily be distinguished in the field by size alone (other traits such as color differ as well). In California there are now two species which are very different in size. Two other examples of very different sized sympatric species are here and here (not on iNaturalist).

Generally speaking if two species are very different in size, they likely differ in a lot of other obvious traits, but it is another way of sorting possibilities for places where a lot of different sized species may overlap.

Other Traits

Other traits that can be used to distinguish species fall into two categories: those that are possible in the field and those that are impossible. Possible traits include things like features of carapace shape or groove patterns on the large claw. These are usually very subtle; sometimes you might be able to make these out well enough to distinguish similar species, but they often won't show up in photos unless you go out of your way to try to photograph them. Even then, some of these traits are so small as to be nearly impossible to see unless you capture the crab and deliberately photograph it from just the right angle (e.g., there is a physical feature that easily distinguishes males from one of the east coast USA species from the other two, but it is nearly impossible to see in a natural photograph because it requires you to clearly see the inside of the palm of the large claw).

Other traits that are used to separate species by taxonomists require dissection or microscopy to see, and thus have no practical value for field identification.

Posted on segunda-feira, 18 de abril de 2022, 21:56h by msr msr | 1 comentário | Deixar um comentário

17 de novembro de 2019

Splitting Fiddlers

Nearly 1000 observations later, I've more or less finished splitting all of the fiddlers labeled only to subfamily Gelasiminae into two tribes (or better). Also took a "break" of sorts in the middle to go through every observation from Uca/Afruca and confirm/update/etc.

Next step will be to compile key indicators for genus/species and do region by region checks for accuracy and specificity. Only 4300 or so to review/re-review. Yeah, think that's not going to happen soon.

Posted on domingo, 17 de novembro de 2019, 14:37h by msr msr | 0 comentários | Deixar um comentário