Forget Count Dracula. We’re talking the real Count Crabula today

Quick Notes

  • Vampire crabs don’t sleep upside down, drink blood, or transform into bats

  • They do have piercing yellow eyes though and are presumably cold to the touch, so they’ve earnt their title

  • Immensely popular in pet stores for many years, their origins had always been a mystery, until recently

Despite their spooky title, the vampire crab species is not known for its blood-sucking tendencies (thank God), but instead is named due to its startling appearance. There are two varieties of vampire crab, and both of them are as creepy as the other.

Notable due to their piercing yellow eyes, they also possess orange or purple abdomens that pair to create a shocking appearance at first glance. And second glance. Or every glance, really. They’re creepy looking creatures, and they stare straight into your soul.

What has troubled the scientific community for some time, more specifically the aquarium community, is that no one has known where they originated from geographically. This posed a problem for as, without an exact geographic location, it makes officially naming the species a tricky task to complete.

Popular among pet owners, but where did they come from?

While it’s perfectly acceptable to name a new species without knowing their exact location of origin, it isn’t exactly considered good scientific practice. Often, the creature’s provenance provides the foundation for its official scientific name. Without that knowledge, the species may be falsely attributed.

Peter Ng, a biology professor at the National University of Singapore, first came across the unique vampire crab in a pet shop in Indonesia. Their startling coloring is what makes the vampire crab species so popular among pet owners, but it isn’t Indonesian pet shops that are the crab’s native environment.

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Crab dealers, those that sell these remarkable crustaceans as pets, have stated a variety of locations as origins for the vampire crab. Among these locations were Java, Krakatoa, Borneo, Sulawesi, and New Guinea. Peter Ng had his suspicions, however. With the aid of some mystery-solving by German carcinologist Christian Lukhaup, the vampire crab’s actual origin started to take form.

The dealers were reluctant to reveal where they got their stock from, as they didn’t want to face any heightened competition from rival stockists. Nevertheless, after some keen persuasion, Lukhaup managed to convince the dealers to inform him of the exact location that they found the colorful creatures in such abundance.

Species may be falsely attributed

This took them back to one of the first-named locations: Java. Once this information was confirmed, the vampire crab could debut their official scientific names: Geosesarma dennerle and Geosesarma hagen. 

The discoveries don’t stop with the first two: there are numerous species of vampire crab

Since this initial discovery, there have been fifty-three species of Geosesarma genus, with Peter Ng having named twenty of them, and he’s confident there are more to come. “The nightmare for biodiversity researchers is that we are always working against the clock — too many species to discover and too little time,” Ng said on the topic.

However, despite their origins being newly discovered, they certainly aren’t a new discovery. They’ve been popular in pet shops internationally for many years, and this means that they’re already under threat from over-collecting damaging their habitat.

Over-exploitation could do serious damage to their population

As they are less than an inch wide in size and boast vibrant orange and purples in their coloring (and that’s without counting their piercing, yellow eyes), it’s no wonder that they’re so immensely popular among pet owners. They make a startling addition to any fish tank in any home.

Peter Ng worries that their continued over-exploitation could do severe damage to their population, in the same way many aquatic species have faced near extinction from the practices of fishermen. In a cruel irony, their popularity could be their downfall.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101

It isn’t just the vampire crab turning heads in the aquatic community; this seaworm is even regrowing them

Fishing can be a dangerous gig, and no one knows that better than the cast of Deadliest Catch

Even though the vampire crab doesn’t share the quality of immortality with its namesake, the animals on this list just might!