Saturday, 18 September 2021

DECAPODA: KU'MIS

Look how epic this little guy is! 

He is a crab — and if you asked him, the fiercest warrior that ever lived. While that may not be strictly true, crabs do have the heart of a warrior and will raise their claws, sometimes only millimetres into the air, to assert dominance over their world. 

Crabs are decapod crustaceans of the Phylum Arthropoda. 

In the Kwak'wala language of the Kwakiutl First Nations of the Pacific Northwest, this brave fellow is ḵ̓u'mis — both a tasty snack and familiar to the supernatural deity Tuxw'id, a female warrior spirit. Given their natural armour and clear bravery, it is a fitting role.

They inhabit all the world's oceans, sandy beaches, many of our freshwater lakes and streams. Some few prefer to live in forests.

Crabs build their shells from highly mineralized chitin — and chitin gets around. It is the main structural component of the exoskeletons of many of our crustacean and insect friends. Shrimp, crab, and lobster all use it to build their exoskeletons.

Chitin is a polysaccharide — a large molecule made of many smaller monosaccharides or simple sugars, like glucose. 

It is handy stuff, forming crystalline nanofibrils or whiskers. Chitin is actually the second most abundant polysaccharide after cellulose. It is interesting as we usually think of these molecules in the context of their sugary context but they build many other very useful things in nature — not the least of these are the hard shells or exoskeletons of our crustacean friends.

The earliest unambiguous crab fossils date from the Early Jurassic, with the oldest being Eocarcinus from the early Pliensbachian of Britain, which likely represents a stem-group lineage, as it lacks several key morphological features that define modern crabs. 

Most Jurassic crabs are only known from dorsal — or top half of the body — carapaces, making it difficult to determine their relationships. Crabs radiated in the Late Jurassic, corresponding with an increase in reef habitats, though they would decline at the end of the Jurassic as the result of the decline of reef ecosystems. Crabs increased in diversity through the Cretaceous and represented the dominant group of decapods by the end.