To honour a collector whose species-finding skills bordered on the magical, biologists have named a newfound crab after characters from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
The crab, dubbed Harryplax severus, lives in deep rubble beds, or patches of dead coral fragments, along the coasts of Guam, an island in the western Pacific Ocean. The milky-yellow creature appears to spend much of its time hiding in the shadows, with the shrunken, immobile eyes and pale coloration characteristic of living in murky habitats.
The rarely spotted crab adds to the ever-growing tally of creatures found in rubble beds worldwide, which are thought to contain hidden troves of biodiversity but are tough for humans to explore.
The species’ name honours Professor Severus Snape, a Harry Potter character who kept “one of the most important secrets in the story, just like the present new species which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected,” National University of Singapore biologists Jose Mendoza and Peter Ng say in the new ZooKeys study describing H. severus.
The species name—Latin for “rigorous”— also acknowledges the tireless efforts of amateur field collector Harry Conley, who originally found the specimens in 1998 and 2001. After retiring from the U.S. military, Conley spent years diving off the beaches of Guam—and hand-dug through the rubble beds up to 100 feet deep—in pursuit of fantastic beasts. “The holes he dug looked like bomb craters,” said Ng in a 2004 interview with Nature.
When Conley died in 2002 under tragic circumstances—a gunshot to the head during an argument—his samples fell to biologist Gustav Paulay, who later passed them along to Ng, an expert on crab taxonomy. (See eight real-life ‘Fantastic Beasts.’)
The two unusual yellow crabs weren’t formally described as a new species until much later, when Ng and his colleague Jose Mendoza realised that they represented a newfound genus. What’s more, H. severus is just the second in the crab family Christmaplacidae—and the first one found in the Pacific Ocean.
As for the genus name, Mendoza, a self-described “Potterhead,” ensured that it also had a double meaning.
The genus not only nods to Harry Potter, the book and film series’ protagonist, but it also enshrines Conley himself in the scientific record, the study says—honoring his “uncanny ability to collect rare and interesting creatures as if by magic.”
Header image: This is the new crab species and genus Harryplax severus, discovered in the deep coral reefs' rubble by the island of Guam, western Pacific Ocean.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSE C. E. MENDOZA