Spider crabs of the Western Atlantic with special reference to fossil and some modern Mithracidae

PeerJ. 2015 Oct 1:3:e1301. doi: 10.7717/peerj.1301. eCollection 2015.


Spider crabs (Majoidea) are well-known from modern oceans and are also common in the western part of the Atlantic Ocean. When spider crabs appeared in the Western Atlantic in deep time, and when they became diverse, hinges on their fossil record. By reviewing their fossil record, we show that (1) spider crabs first appeared in the Western Atlantic in the Late Cretaceous, (2) they became common since the Miocene, and (3) most species and genera are found in the Caribbean region from the Miocene onwards. Furthermore, taxonomic work on some modern and fossil Mithracidae, a family that might have originated in the Western Atlantic, was conducted. Specifically, Maguimithrax gen. nov. is erected to accommodate the extant species Damithrax spinosissimus, while Damithrax cf. pleuracanthus is recognized for the first time from the fossil record (late Pliocene-early Pleistocene, Florida, USA). Furthermore, two new species are described from the lower Miocene coral-associated limestones of Jamaica (Mithrax arawakum sp. nov. and Nemausa windsorae sp. nov.). Spurred by a recent revision of the subfamily, two known species from the same deposits are refigured and transferred to new genera: Mithrax donovani to Nemausa, and Mithrax unguis to Damithrax. The diverse assemblage of decapods from these coral-associated limestones underlines the importance of reefs for the abundance and diversity of decapods in deep time. Finally, we quantitatively show that these crabs possess allometric growth in that length/width ratios drop as specimens grow, a factor that is not always taken into account while describing and comparing among taxa.

Keywords: Biodiversity; Biogeography; Crustacea; Decapoda; Majoidea; Paleoecology; Paleontology; Reef; Systematics; Taxonomy.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Endowment Fund to AAK. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.