Tusk Shell Hermit Crab

A tusk shell hermit crab peeks out of his shell.
Barry Brown/Substation Curacao

When this tusk shell was brought up from the deep reef, it was a surprise when a hermit crab poked out! Notice the hermit crab's large claw that it can use to tightly cover the shell opening when it retracts into the shell. Dr. Rafael Lemaitre, NMNH curator of decapod Crustacea, has identified this hermit crab as Pylopagurus discoidalis.

In the past, deep-sea animals like this one could only be collected from ships using awkward trawls or dredges, and then sent to museums where they might sit for decades before being identified. By that time, the animal's bright color would fade away. That process is a far cry from what's going on here in Curacao with the Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP), where specimens are quickly and carefully examined one by one, given a code number, photographed, DNA sampled, and identified by taxonomic experts—with their true colors preserved.