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New gall crab species discovered in Tun Mustapha Park, Malaysia

Posted on 28 April 2015

A new coral-inhabiting gall crab species has been discovered in the proposed Tun Mustapha Park, northern Sabah, Malaysia.
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia - A new coral-inhabiting gall crab species has been discovered in the proposed Tun Mustapha Park, northern Sabah. 
The new gall crab, named Lithoscaptus semperi, was found inhabiting free-living corals of the species Trachyphyllia geoffroyi on sandy bottoms near coral reefs. The research done on this gall crab was published in the 500th issue of ZooKeys.
“When I started working on gall crabs, I had a hard time to find them because of their small size,” says Sancia Van der Meij, the scientist from Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands who discovered the new species. “But once I knew how to recognise their dwellings, I realised they are actually very common on coral reefs.”
Gall crabs are very small – less than 1 cm in size – and live in a ‘dwelling’ in stony corals. Gall crab larvae settle on a coral as a larvae and the coral then grows around the crab, creating a ‘dwelling’. These dwellings are named galls, which give the common name of the crabs. Female gall crabs are about two times larger than males. Because of their size and the large number of eggs they can carry, they cannot leave their galls and become ‘imprisoned’. Males are presumed to be able to leave their galls and move around freely.
The holotype (the name-bearing specimen of this new species) was collected during the Tun Mustapha Park Expedition (TMPE) 2012. Organised by Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Sabah Parks and WWF-Malaysia, TMPE 2012 was funded by Malaysian-CTI (MOSTI through the National Oceanography Directorate), USAID’s Coral Triangle Support Partnership and WWF-Malaysia’s individual supporters.
“This discovery and the study by Van der Meij highlight the need to protect our coral reefs not just for fisheries and food security, but also for biodiversity,” says Robecca Jumin, Head of Marine, WWF-Malaysia. “New species are still being discovered as the proposed Tun Mustapha Park (TMP) is largely unexplored. This also highlights the value of TMP for research and scientific advancement for Malaysia, whereby research would be an important management consideration after gazetted.”
Late last year, the State Government of Sabah announced its intention to gazette the Tun Mustapha Park by 2015. Such action will create Malaysia’s largest marine protected area and help ensure the sustainable management of valuable coastal and marine resources to benefit more than 80,000 people living in the coastal areas and islands within the Park. The TMP is recognised as a globally-significant priority conservation area in the Coral Triangle, which is threatened by overfishing, destructive fishing and pollution.

For further information:

Angela Lim, Communications and Campaigns Manager, Marine Programme, WWF-Malaysia,
Tel: +60 88 262 420, Email:

The male gall crab
© Sancia van der Meij/Bastian Reijnen
The gall crab as seen within the cavity in the host coral.
© Sancia van der Meij/Bastian Reijnen