From time to time–typically after I’ve made a curmudgeonly comment about some regrettable modern development–I’ve been accused of being an “old crab.” A recently announced scientific discovery allows me to respond that if such naysayers want to see a really old crab, they need look no farther than the ancient crab, pictured above, that was discovered trapped in amber.
It’s an old crab, for sure. In fact, it’s 100 million years old, which means that this little guy was scuttling around during the Cretaceous period, while dinosaurs still roamed the Earth, when he had the misfortune of becoming trapped in tree resin that later became amber. The crab, called Cretapsara athanata, is the oldest modern-looking crab and the most complete fossil crab ever discovered.
The remarkable specimen is so complete that scientists could examine the crab’s entire body, including delicate tissues, like the antennae and mouthparts lined with fine hairs. And when they examined the crab, researchers got a surprise: they discovered the animal also had gills, but no lungs. That indicates that Cretapsara athanata lived an aquatic or semi-aquatic life, which makes the specimen even rarer, because most fossilized crabs are land or tree-dwelling crabs.
And if you are ever called an “old crab,” bear in mind that there are many things to admire about crabs as a species. As the article linked above points out: “True crabs, or Brachyura, are an iconic group of crustaceans whose remarkable diversity of forms, species richness, and economic importance have inspired celebrations and festivals worldwide. They’ve even earned a special role in the pantheon of social media. True crabs are found all around the world, from the depths of the oceans, to coral reefs, beaches, rivers, caves, and even in trees as true crabs are among the few animal groups that have conquered land and freshwater multiple times.”