New Zealand pea crab

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New Zealand pea crab
Stage V adult female Pinnotheres novaezelandiae.jpg
Stage V adult Female New Zealand pea crab Pinnotheres novaezelandiae
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Subphylum: Crustacea
Class: Malacostraca
Order: Decapoda
Infraorder: Brachyura
Family: Pinnotheridae
Genus: Pinnotheres
Species: P. novaezelandiae
Binomial name
Pinnotheres novaezelandiae
Filhol, 1886

The New Zealand pea crab, Pinnotheres novaezelandiae, is a small, parasitic crab that lives most commonly inside New Zealand green-lipped mussels.[1] Adult females are about the size and shape of a pea, while adult males are smaller and flatter.[2] Adult New Zealand pea crabs are completely reliant on their host mussel for shelter and food, which it steals from the mussel's gills.[1] The New Zealand pea crab is found throughout New Zealand and can infect up to 70% of natural populations.[3] These crabs are of concern to green-lipped mussel aquaculture because they reduce the size and growth of mussels,[4] although infected mussels can be harvested and consumed.[5]


Stage I adult male Pinnotheres novaezelandiae

Adult female New Zealand pea crabs have a soft-shelled exoskeleton.[2] Their carapace is oval in shape, ranging in size from 9.3 to 20.2 millimetres (0.37 to 0.80 in) wide.[3] Sexually mature adult females almost always have eggs that are tucked under their abdomens, giving them a more spherical appearance.[2] Adult females are opaque white in colour.[2] Developing eggs change colour from red to orange to yellow before they hatch, giving the brooding mother a different tint at each stage.[6] Adult male New Zealand pea crabs have a hard, chitinous exoskeleton.[3] Their carapace is smaller and more dorso-ventrally flattened than that of the female, ranging in size from 3.2 to 11.8 mm (0.13 to 0.46 in) wide.[3] Adult males are a creamy white colour with distinctive orange markings.[2]


Female New Zealand pea crabs spend their entire adult lives within a single host.[7] Adult males will only leave their host in order to find a mate.[7] The hard exoskeleton and flattened body shape of the male New Zealand pea crab helps with this endeavour. New Zealand pea crabs are completely reliant on their host for food, shelter and a place to mate.[1] The New Zealand pea crab collects food by sitting on the gills of the green-lipped mussel and stealing food strands from the mussel.[4] The relationship between the New Zealand pea crab and the green-lipped mussel is one of parasitism because the crab damages the mussel's gills when taking food.[6] Infected mussels are also smaller and slower growing than uninfected mussels.[4]

The New Zealand pea crab is endemic to New Zealand and is common throughout the country, inhabiting the North Island, South Island, Stewart Island and the Chatham Islands.[6] The New Zealand pea crab lives most commonly in green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus), but can also be found in many other bivalve molluscs including the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis aoteanus), the Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) and a species of clam (Chione stutchburyi).[8] The infection rate in wild green-lipped mussel populations can range from 0 to 70%.[3]


Male pea crab attempting to enter a mussel hosting a female crab by stroking the mantle. Infrared video [9]

In a 2015 study,[9] the mate location behaviour of male New Zealand pea crabs was observed when dwelling in the commercially important green-lipped mussel, Perna canaliculus. Given the cryptic behaviour of the male crabs, a novel trapping system was developed to determine whether male crabs would exit their mussel hosts in response to an upstream female crab. Observations of the nocturnal mate-finding behaviour of male crabs were made in darkness using infrared video recordings. The presence of receptive female crabs placed upstream successfully attracted 60% of male crabs from their host over 24 h. Males spent on average 49 min on empty hosts and never left a mussel containing a female conspecific once found, spending 200 min on average to gain entry to the mussel. Male crabs were often observed stroking the mantle edge of the mussel whilst attempting to gain entry, successfully increasing mussel valve gape during entry from 3.7 to 5.5 mm. The authors concluded that a pheromone-based mate location system is likely used by this crab to greatly reduce the risks associated with the location of females.[9]


Pea crabs are edible and were once a delicacy in the United States.[5][10] George Washington used to love having pea crabs floating in his oyster soup.[10] Mussels infected by pea crabs are also edible.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Stevens, P. M. (1990). "Specificity of host recognition of individuals from different host races of symbiotic pea crabs (Decapoda: Pinnotheridae)". Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology. 143: 193–207. doi:10.1016/0022-0981(90)90070-S. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Jones, J. B. (1977). "Post-planktonic stages of Pinnotheres novaezelandiae Filhol, 1886 (Brachyura: Pinnotheridae)". New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 11 (1): 145–158. doi:10.1080/00288330.1977.9515667. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Jones, J. B. (1977). "Natural history of the pea crab in Wellington Harbour, New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research. 11 (4): 667–676. doi:10.1080/00288330.1977.9515704. 
  4. ^ a b c Bierbaum, R. M.; Ferson, S. (1986). "Do symbiotic pea crabs decrease growth rate in mussels?". The Biological Bulletin. 170 (1): 51–61. JSTOR 1541380. 
  5. ^ a b c Maryland Seafood. "Seafood Information & Nutrition". Retrieved 29 September 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c Weir, R. G.; Feilder, D. R. (1985). The Marine Fauna of New Zealand: Larvae of the Brachyura (Crustacea, Decapoda). New Zealand Oceanographic Institute Memoir. 92. pp. 62–68. ISBN 978-0-477-06722-5. 
  7. ^ a b McLay, C. L. (1988). Brachyura and Crab-like Anomura of New Zealand. Leigh Marine Laboratory, New Zealand: University of Auckland Press. hdl:2292/3450. 
  8. ^ Palmer, P. (1995). "Occurrence of a New Zealand pea crab, Pinnotheres novaezelandiae, in five species of surf clam". Marine and Freshwater Research. 46 (7): 1071–1075. doi:10.1071/MF9951071. 
  9. ^ a b c Trottier, Oliver; Jeffs, Andrew G. (2015). "Mate locating and access behaviour of the parasitic pea crab, Nepinnotheres novaezelandiae, an important parasite of the mussel Perna canaliculus". Parasite. 22: 13. doi:10.1051/parasite/2015013. ISSN 1776-1042. PMC 4365294Freely accessible. PMID 25786327.  open access publication – free to read
  10. ^ a b Chefs. "Eating American Crabs". Retrieved 26 September 2011. 

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