Cape produces the first shrimp that snuggles up to an octopus

16 August 2017 - 14:36 By Timeslive
False Bay
False Bay
Image: SafariNow

Three new shrimp species with odd habitat preferences have been discovered on a 5.5km stretch of False Bay coastline.

One lives with a rare hermit crab and has been named Heteromysis cancelli after the crab genus cancellus.

Another‚ Heteromysis octopodis‚ cohabits with an octopus and points to the first known symbiotic relationship between a shrimp and a cephalopod.

And the third — found inside empty urchin and gastropod shells — has been named Heteromysis fosteri after free-diving wildlife documentary film-maker and photographer Craig Foster.

The finds‚ at Miller’s Point between Simon’s Town and Cape Point‚ were made by Foster and veteran marine biologist Charles Griffiths‚ of the University of Cape Town Marine Research Institute. They were reported in the journal ZooKeys.

The new species‚ mostly bright red to orange with series of spots or stripes‚ differ from previously known species by colour pattern‚ eye shape and the patterns of spines on their legs and tails. Heteromysis fosteri has golden corneas Surveys of the Cape Peninsula’s waters have yielded a number of recent shrimp discoveries‚ and the Marine Research Institute said more were in the pipeline.

The symbiotic associations between these shrimps and other marine animals are intriguing marine biologists. Said Foster: “You look at a hermit crab living in a shell and you don’t imagine other animals living inside with them — yet they allow that.”

Foster and Griffiths started exploring intertidal rock pools together several years ago – Griffiths to collect specimens and Foster to observe and learn from a “master marine tracker”‚ the elder of marine science whom he describes as a “gracious and patient” teacher.

Griffiths has described more than 100 new species‚ and Foster has worked with many top scientists in different fields in over 30 years of film-making. He has spent every day of the past six years free-diving in the sea below his home at Miller’s Point.