Species Description: The thinstripe hermit crab, Clibanarius vittatus, is an easily recognizable species present in abundance throughout the IRL. The claw-bearing legs, called chelipeds, are equal in size and covered with short spines and hairs (Voss 1980). The claws themselves are also equal in size, cylindrical, and fairly small (Ruppert & Fox 1988). Fingers open horizontally to reveal several teeth, and the exterior of the claws are covered in bluish tubercles (Williams 1984). Body coloration is greenish to dark brown and marked with conspicuous gray or white stripes, which are most noticeable on the legs. C. vittatus inhabits a variety of gastropod shells, commonly from whelk and conch species (see ‘Associated Species’ below).
Potentially Misidentified Species: Although several species of hermit crabs are found in the IRL and surrounding Florida waters, the coloration and pattern of stripes on C. vittatus make it readily distinguishable from other species.
Regional Occurrence: The range of C. vittatus extends from the Virginia coast in the eastern U.S. south to Brazil (Williams 1984). Crabs can be found on sheltered beaches, mud and sand flats, on rock jetties, in seagrass beds and among mangrove roots, in oyster beds and other coastal habitats to a depth of 22 m (e.g. Williams 1984). Because it can withstand desiccation better than many other hermit crabs, C. vittatus is usually the species found on exposed tidal flats and beaches at low tide (Ruppert & Fox 1988).
IRL Distribution: The thinstripe hermit is possibly the most common hermit species in the IRL, and is located throughout the lagoon in most submerged or intertidal habitats.
Age, Size, Lifespan: With the exception of the giant hermit crab, Petrochirus diogenes, C. vittatus is likely the largest hermit crab species in the IRL. The anterior shield of the carapace ranges from about 14 to 17 mm in length (Williams 1984). Adult crabs are commonly found inhabiting gastropod shells at least 10 cm long (Ruppert & Fox 1988).
Abundance: Mean abundance for thinstripe hermit populations in the IRL at the Sebastian Inlet has been documented to vary seasonally from 1.5 to 13.9 individuals m-2 for January and November, respectively (Lowery & Nelson 1988).
Reproduction & Embryology: As with other crustaceans, C. vittatus reproduces sexually via copulation and the transfer of a spermatophore from the male to the female (Hazlett 1996; Hess & Bauer 2002). Eggs are laid on the abdomen of the female up to one hour after mating (Turra & Leite 2007). Ovigerous, or egg-bearing, female hermits have been reported from April through September for populations at Sebastian Inlet in the IRL (Lowery & Nelson 1988), with each female carrying between 1,000 to 30,000 eggs on her abdomen in a mass commonly called a ‘sponge’. Over the course of their development, eggs grow from a diameter of about 0.4 to 0.7 mm. Fecundity in terms of egg number and weight is positively correlated to the size of the female (Turra & Leite 2001). Because they produce multiple clutches over a single reproductive season, the annual reproductive capacity for a single individual has been estimated at about 180,000 eggs (Turra & Leite 2001).
Laboratory examination of ovigerous crabs revealed that the females exhibited synchronous spawning around sunset, releasing their entire clutch over the course of one to several days (Ziegler & Forward, Jr. 2006). After the larvae are released into the water column, they pass through 4-5 zoeal stages and one post-larval stage called a glaucothoe before settling and metamorphosing into juveniles (Williams 1984; Brossi-Garcia 1988). Developmental times may vary with water temperature, salinity, and other environmental factors (e.g. Harvey 1996), but have been documented to range from 24 to 91 days (Williams 1984; Turra & Leite 2007).
Temperature: Based on their known range in warm temperate to tropical climate zones, thinstripe hermits likely prefer and/or require warm waters in order to thrive. Like most organisms that reproduce via planktonic larvae, larval development times decrease in warmer water temperatures (Williams 1984). Larvae cultured at 25°C took two months to metamorphose into their juvenile stage, while those held at 15°C failed to reach metamorphosis. Such studies suggest that the species range is determined by the thermal tolerances of the larvae, as opposed to those of the more robust adults (Williams 1984).
Salinity: Thinstripe hermits are found in many habitats, from brackish estuaries to more saline coastal waters. Some studies have found that salinity plays a role in the rate of larval development and growth (Williams 1984).
Trophic Mode: Thinstripe hermits are considered to employ an opportunistic trophic mode, feeding on a variety of plant and animal material. Diet studies involving gut content analysis revealed that crabs consumed 40% scavenged material, 40% detritus, and 20% substratum (Williams 1984).
Predators: Information on the predators of C. vittatus is scarce, but crabs are likely preyed upon by large benthic-feeding fishes and other crustaceans. Eggs and larvae are consumed by a variety of organisms, including some species that are considered to be commensals of the parent crab (Williams 1984).
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