under the sea

Bow to Your ‘Beautiful Nightmare’ Crab Queen

Isn’t she lovely? Photo: Oksana Vernygora/University of Alberta

Sorry but you’re going to have to forget everything you thought you knew about crustaceans, because a team of paleontologists have discovered a new species that — to quote lead researcher Javier Luque — “forces a rethink of our definition of what makes a crab a crab.” Actually, I’m not sorry at all, because look at this majestic creature.

I’m not screaming, you’re screaming. (To be clear, I am in fact screaming, and have been for some time.)

Photo: Elissa Martin, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History

Our girl is 90 to 95 million years old and her name is Callichimaera perplexa, which means “perplexing beautiful chimera.” (Chimera, noun: A mythical frankenbeast made of body parts from many other beasts.) Scientists discovered her fossilized remains, along with “hundreds of tiny comma shrimp fossils, several true shrimp,” and various other crabs, in Colombia. Regrettably, the Callichimaera perplexa scuttled around the Earth during the mid-Cretaceous Period, and like her dinosaur contemporaries, she has since become extinct. Had you been alive in her day, however, you would have been able to catch her not only in Colombia, but also in Northern Africa and Wyoming. At least according to the Washington Post.

Luque (a postdoctoral paleontologist with Yale University, the University of Alberta, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute) actually discovered this remarkable crab in 2005, and his team has just now published a paper on their marine findings in Science Advances. According to the news release, this quarter-sized crab could have fit in your wallet. Rather than the small beady eyes you’ve come to associate with her cousins, the Callichimaera perplexa boasted bulbous googly eyes without any sockets to speak of. If you scaled her peepers to the human head, according to Live Science, they’d be as big as soccer balls, and they would protrude cutely from a crabby face further enhanced by “leg-like mouth parts.” Paddle-shaped legs suggest this unusual lady spent most of her time swimming, while wrench-reminiscent claws made her “a powerful little hunter,” per the Post. Can’t you just picture her, cracking her enemy’s body over a sea rock, pincing away pieces of meat and shoving them serenely into her leggy mouth?

Because the Callichimaera perplexa’s body reads like a mash-up of adult and larvae crab parts, with some shrimpy accents thrown in, she proved a hard specimen for researchers to pin down. “I call it my beautiful nightmare because it was so beautiful and frustrating,” Luque told Live Science. Still, Luque noted in the news release, “Callichimaera perplexa is so unique and strange that it can be considered the platypus of the crab world.” And also, the queen of the crab world.

Bow to Your ‘Beautiful Nightmare’ Crab Queen