The Afzelius crab was not sighted from 1796 until January 2021, when the species was rediscovered in Sierra Leone!
This Rare Crab Was Last Seen in 1796!
Pierre A Mvogo Ndongo travelled to Sierra Leone in January 2021 in search of “lost” species of land-dwelling crabs. Tracing down rare species that are thought to be extinct is quite a challenge, but Ndongo discovered one in particular, the Afzelius’s crab, which was last seen in 1796. The only clue to finding this crab was a label on a specimen that simply said ‘Sierra Leone.’
The purpose of his search was primarily to find the rainbow-coloured, land-dwelling Sierra Leone crab, lost to science for 65 years and thought to be possibly extinct. He also hoped, but never actually expected to find, the Afzelius’s crab! These two crab species are both land-dwellers that live in burrows on the rainforest floor.
These Colourful, Rainforest-Dwelling Crabs Burrow In The Forest Floor
Pierre A Mvogo Ndongo says that “the species of interest belong to a unique Afrotropical family that includes members that can breathe air, which has enabled them to conquer more obscure habitats in the rainforest, often far away from permanent water sources … [They] are extremely colourful compared to their river-dwelling cousins, and they can climb trees, live in rock crevices, dig in marshes, or make burrows in the forest floor.” Wow!
This creature is so rare that Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia are the only countries in Africa where these crabs reside, and there are only five species known. Scientific discoveries are usually propelled by extensive notes of other scientists who’ve gone before, but this wasn’t the case for this discovery…
Two New Additional Species Of Freshwater Crab Were Also Discovered!
The crab “hadn’t been seen for 225 years and literally the only information on where to look for it was on a specimen label as ‘Sierra Leone’ – a very non-specific locality indeed.” So, the team asked locals if they had seen any crabs living on land away from rivers and streams until encountering someone who could help.
Deep in the forest, after intense searching, he finally found the Sierra Leone crab! The crabs were living in burrows so deep that Mvogo Ndongo and his team had to carefully excavate them using picks and machetes, before cleaning soil from the crabs to reveal the colourful crustaceans. Alongside the Sierra Leone crab and Afzelius’s crab, two new species of freshwater crabs were also found!
Now that scientists know the crabs exist in the area, the species can be protected. Neil Cumberlidge, who collaborated with Mvogo Ndongo on the expedition, says that the next step is to devise a species action plan and implement protective measures in the field with Sierra Leone conservationists to save these species from extinction.
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