Aquarium crabs prove prickly customers

A septet of spiky spider crabs has gone on display at Bristol Aquarium.

The impressive-looking crustaceans were transferred to the Harbourside wildlife attraction from their sister Blue Reef Aquarium in Portsmouth.

The crabs have taken up residence in one of the aquarium’s native coastal-themed displays and will also play a part in daily rockpool encounter sessions with aquarists.

As their name suggests the crustaceans’ are covered in shark spines and staff at the aquarium have had to use extra care when handling them.

Bristol Aquarium’s Paul Strachan said: “Before we were able to release them in to the main display we had to give each of the crabs’ a thorough examination to check they were fit and healthy.

“There’s definitely a technique to handling them but even we got caught out from time to time as they are actually very strong and remarkably manoeuvrable – and all of us have got the scars to prove it!” he added.

The spiny spider crab is found throughout European waters from the Mediterranean in the south to the English Channel.

They get their name because their long, spindly legs make them look like giant underwater spiders.

During the summer months divers often come across huge mounds of spider crabs in shallow waters with as many as 100 or more individuals congregating in one place.

The mounds allow the crabs to breed with the females, who have recently moulted, being protected by an outer wall of males joined together by their long legs.

The mating season ends in autumn when the crabs disperse and return to deeper waters.

As well as small animals, spider crabs will also feed on seaweed. They use their long, narrow claws to extract food from the tiniest of gaps and crevices.

The crabs shell is so spiny that they are also known as thornback crabs and can be extremely painful if accidentally trodden on.

Like decorator crabs, baby spider crabs use seaweed to camouflage themselves from would-be predators as they mature in shallow rockpools.

Issued by Bristol Aquarium. For more information please contact Paul Strachan, David Waines or Sarah Moore on 0117 929 8929.