A new species of squat lobster discovered in deep waters off South Africa has been named Munidopsis mandelai in honour of the revolutionary leader who died last month.
The lobster, a relation of hermit crabs, has a carapace (upper body section) of only 7mm long. It was discovered 750m below the surface by Diva Amon, a PhD student based at the Museum.
‘The finding provides us with another example of how deep sea research continues to reveal the mysteries of underwater ecosystems,’ Amon said.
Amon and her supervisor, Dr Adrian Glover, were looking at deep-sea ecosystems that develop around wood and bone lying on the sea floor. Lobsters such as the newly discovered species had been found in similar situations before, feeding off organisms that use the wood and bone for food.
The two were part of a larger scientific team exploring the South West Indian Ocean seamounts – underwater mountains rising from the ocean floor. In this area of the world their ecosystems are largely unexplored, but are at risk of destruction by deep-sea fishing.
When she returned to the Museum, Amon gave several samples to Museum invertebrates researcher Dr Paul Clark for identification. He had trouble with the tiny squat lobster, so sent it to Dr Enrique Macpherson of the Centro de Estudios Avanzados de Blanes in Spain for further investigation.
Dr Macpherson confirmed it as a new species, and all three agreed on the name of Munidopsis mandelai.
‘We thought it would be a fitting tribute to name this find in honour of Mr Mandela, a remarkable man,’ Dr Clark said.
Every year, museum scientists discover and describe dozens of new finds. Learn how this process works with a free Nature Live talk at the Museum on 22 January at 14.30.