Into the Jurassic oceans: Coral reefs and squat lobsters

Squat, lobster

A new research paper highlights the rich reef life in the Jurassic Period. A reef located in what is now central Europe, was teaming with fish, crabs, sea urchins, snails, clams and ammonites.

Among the wide variety of sea life live 53 distinct species of squat lobsters, also known as longostinos in South America.

Parasites thrived in what was then the Tethys Sea. Around 10% of all the squat lobster fossils showed evidence of parasites. With bumps on their gill regions, these fossils suggest the existence of a blood sucking parasite believed to be similar to the parasite effecting modern squat lobsters.

“The reef would have looked similar to coral reefs today, just in terms of diversity and the fact that the corals back then belonged to the same group as the ones we see today,” said lead author Cristina Robins, a senior museum scientist at the University of California Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley.

“Squat lobsters became very diverse for the first time in Earth’s history at the end of the Jurassic, alongside true crabs, which means that the Late Jurassic coral-associated habitats were key ecosystems in the evolution of galatheoids and their parasites,” she said.

“We know that reefs aren’t doing well today because of coral bleaching and other factors,” said co-author Adiel Klompmaker, a project scientist in the Department of Integrative Biology. “If these ecosystems continue to deteriorate, it is very likely that associated organisms, including the squat lobsters, are going to take a big hit, as well, in terms of their abundance and diversity.”

What is a squat lobster?

“Most of the squat lobsters look like a crayfish: a lobster, but somewhat squished,” Robins said. “But the squat lobsters have secondarily evolved a crab-like body in the porcelain crabs. That body shape helps in rocky intertidal areas.”

“I opened up several of their storage cabinets, and they contained nearly 7,000 decapods, a diverse group within crustaceans,” Robins said. “The squat lobsters were a pretty high percentage of the number of decapods there: about 2,350 fossils, or a third. This collection is really special, just because they had a very dedicated collector who collected everything, so we have a really great snapshot of what the squat lobster fauna looked like, as well as some of the associated reef fauna.”



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