'Butterflies of the sea'

30 October, 2009

Jo Taylor in the collection store
Jo Taylor in the collection store with squat lobsters collected from Western Australia.
Source: Museum Victoria

Museum Victoria researcher Jo Taylor embarked upon an ambitious project in October 2009 – to compile a book about the squat lobsters of the world. The project is an 18-month postdoctorate position during which she will work with an international group of biologists including MV’s Gary Poore.

Despite their common name, squat lobsters are more closely related to crabs. “They’re affectionately known in the business as ‘squatties’,” said Jo. “They’re just everywhere, all over the world, and they’re often found in large numbers.” These diverse marine crustaceans are sometimes described as ‘butterflies of the sea’ because of their beautiful colours and abundance around the continental shelves, where land meets the sea floor. They are less delicate than butterflies however, with long front claws, stocky-looking bodies and scavenging habits.

Although the animals themselves are plentiful, the biology of squat lobsters is quite poorly known. The marine environment in which they live is large and complex, making comprehensive study a difficult undertaking. Furthermore, squat lobsters miss out on a lot of research funding because they are seldom harvested commercially, unlike true lobsters. With just a handful of experts scattered across the globe, the little information available has never been gathered in one volume, which provided the inspiration for the book.

“It will contain general information about the biology, reproduction and classification of squat lobsters,” explained Jo. She will coordinate the world’s experts who will write chapters and assist in building identification keys for the 870 known species. The finished product will join the other material produced by the Census of Marine Life, a global effort to catalogue the flora and fauna of the oceans. A sub-group called COMARGE (Continental Margin Ecosystems) provided funding for the squat lobster project.

Jo has been with the museum for nearly 15 years, during which she has been part of a variety of projects. She worked on one of the museum’s earliest web development projects, the Marine Crustaceans of Southern Australia site. Since then she has assisted MV’s Robin Wilson to develop identification keys for marine polychaete worms, completed a PhD on the taxonomy of a family of amphipods (better known as sand fleas), and worked as a collection manager for the Marine Invertebrate Collection.

Comments (2)

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Mark Schultz 4 November, 2009 12:44
Amazing creatures. Good luck with the project!
Darryl Deller 6 November, 2009 15:17
All the students of 2/3D at Montmorency Primary School were impressed with the squat lobster pictures, especially the plush yeti crab!!
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