Petrolisthes armatus (Gibbes, 1850)
Family: Porcellanidae
Common names: Green Porcelain Crab
Petrolisthes armatus image
Petrolisthes armatus  

Potentially Misidentified Species: The body plan and the position of the antennae relative to the eyes can be used to differentiate porcellanids from other crab species. Petrolisthes armatus can be distinguished from co-occurring porcellanids by means of its characteristic blue mouthparts and orange spot on the chelae.

Regional Occurrence: Petrolisthes armatus is believed native to Brazil and occurs in shallow subtidal and low intertidal habitats such as oyster reefs and rock rubble (Hartman and Stancyk 2001, Knott and King undated). Other investigators differ in their opinion, suggesting P. armatus is native to the Gulf of Mexico and Florida's Gulf Coast.

Modern distribution of P. armatus is broad. In the Atlantic, it includes tropical western Africa, Ascension Island, Bermuda, the Bahamas, West Indies and Caribbean, the Gulf of Mexico and South America to southern Brazil. In the eastern Pacific, this crab occurs from the Gulf of California south to Peru. The current range of P. armatus in the southeastern U.S. includes the South Atlantic Bight from South Carolina down to the southern tip of Florida, and the species has also been reported from Mississippi (Knott et al. 1999, Hartman and Stancyk 2001).

IRL Distribution: IRL distribution records are poor, but the species is presumed to occur throughout the entire length of the estuary.

Age, Size, Lifespan: Petrolisthes armatus is a diminutive crab. Boudreaux et al. (2006) report a size range of 6-8 mm body width and a weight range of 0.3-0.6 g for the specimens they collected in the Mosquito Lagoon. Knott and King (undated) indicate P. armatus from South Carolina can attain a somewhat larger maximum body width of 12 to 14 mm. The authors report collecting female specimens that are sexually mature at just 3-4 mm body width.

Abundance: Petrolisthes armatus can be found in is some abundance within parts of its introduced range. A Florida field study of the Crassostrea virginica oyster reef macrofauna within the Mosquito Lagoon portion of Indian River Lagoon system revealed the green porcelain crab to be among the most abundant mobile species present (Boudreaux et al. 2006). Monthly lift net sampling for 11 months in 2004-2005 at six IRL oyster reef sites collected more than 500 P. armatus specimens. Sampling in North Inlet -Winyah Bay, SC, from July-November 2000 yielded average P. armatus densities of 47.2 individuals per square meter in subtidal samples and 98.5 individuals per square meter in intertidal samples (Hartman and Stancyk 2001).

Substantially higher densities have been reported as well. Hollebone (2006) noted that mean densities of P. armatus on South Atlantic Bight oyster reefs up to several thousand individuals per square meter. Lohrer (2001) claims mean densities have been as high as 10,000 individuals per square meter in South Carolina salt marshes, while localized dense aggregations have exhibited maximum densities more than three times as high. P. armatus populations exhibit a remarkable ability to rapidly increase from tens or hundreds of crabs per square meter in the winter to thousands and tens of thousands of crabs per square meter in the summer (Hollebone 2006).

Reproduction: Details of reproduction in Petrolisthes armatus are similar to those of other crabs. After mating, females can store sperm-containing spermatophores until eggs are ready for release and fertilization. Fertilized eggs are then held in a mass between the abdominal flap and body and the eggs are aerated by continuous beating of the pleopods until they hatch.

P. armatus sex ratios observed in their putative native range in Brazil remain close to 1:1 throughout the year (Oliveira and Masunari 1995). Investigations in Georgia have also revealed ratios that are essentially 1:1 (Hollebone 2006), whereas ratios reported from South Carolina were male-biased at a ratio of 1.5:1 (Hartman and Stancyk 2001).

Embryology: When Petrolisthes armatus eggs hatch, they metamorphose through two planktonic zoeal stages and then one planktonic megalopal stage before finally becoming settlement-ready juveniles (Knott and King undated). There is some evidence suggesting gregarious settlement in which the presence of P. armatus individuals at a site cues the settlement of conspecifics (Hollebone 2006).

Temperature: The temperature range within the putative native range of P. armatus is 16-29ºC (Oliveira and Masunari 1995). Northward expansion of the introduced range of this species may therefore be limited by low temperatures. Knott and King (undated) note that the time frame during which the crab successfully expanded north through Georgia and into South Carolina coincided with a period in which winter-time surface temperatures (measured in Charleston Harbor) were as much as 3-4°C above the multidecadal average and this may have facilitated the range expansion.

Winter low temperatures in Georgia and South Carolina may well exceed the lower thermal limit of this crab which may, in part, drive the large winter decrease in densities that have been reported (Hollebone 2006).

Salinity: Petrolisthes armatus exhibits a degree of tolerance to salinity variation. Salinities experienced by the crab within its putative native range typically fall between 6.7 ppt and 31.5 ppt (Oliveira and Masunari 1995).

Roesijadi et al. (1974) demonstrated that if P. armatus with blood chloride levels isotonic to a 15 ppt external environment were transferred to salinities between 7 and 35 ppt, they would attain new steady-state chloride levels within 12 hours.

Trophic Mode: Like other porcelain crabs, Petrolisthes armatus is primarily a filter feeder that extends large, feathery maxillipeds (feeding mouthparts) and waves them back and forth to strain plankton from the water. Internal mouthparts then transfer food from the sieve-like hairs to the mouth for ingestion.

P. armatus and other porcelain crabs are also capable of scavenging larger bits of food using their claws.

Associated Species: Green porcelain crabs preferentially occupy intertidal and subtidal oyster reef and rock rubble habitats and therefore co-occur and potentially interact with members of these communities.

Invasion History: Knott et al. (1999) report that Petrolisthes armatus was collected from south Florida waters in Biscayne Bay and Miami Beach as early as the 1930s. Northward spread of the species appears to have been slow; by 1977, P. armatus was only rarely encountered in the Indian River Lagoon. Since then, however, the green porcelain crab has become well established in the IRL.

The first records of P. armatus occurring north of Cape Canaveral date to 1994. By the fall of that year, the crab had spread north to Georgia, and by the spring of 1995, low numbers could be found off South Carolina as well. By 1999, P. armatus had become well established as far north as Winyah Bay, SC (Knott et al. 1999).

The introduction pathway for this species into the southeastern U.S. remains a matter of speculation, but the most likely human-facilitated pathways involve transport (probably of larvae) in ship ballast water or as accidental introductions as part of commercial mollusc shipments (Knott and King undated)

Potential to Compete With Natives: The extraordinary densities achieved by Petrolisthes armatus in the South Atlantic Bight strongly suggests that the populations could significantly affect oyster reefs and the ecological communities they support. Because the arrival of the species to much of the region is relatively recent, however, long-term ecological effects on oyster reef communities have yet to be fully understood (Hollebone 2006).

Hollebone (2006) reported that any initial biotic resistance to community alteration due to P. armatus invasion is ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of new crabs recruiting to the system.

Possible Economic Consequences of Invasion: The potential economic impacts of invasive P. armatus have yet to be estimated, but they could be significant if oyster reefs become severely impacted. Among other potential impacts, filter-feeding green porcelain crabs may measurably affect juvenile oyster recruitment by ingesting oyster larvae.

Boudreaux M.L., Stiner J.L., and L.J. Walters. 2006. Biodiversity of sessile and motile macrofauna on intertidal oyster reefs in Mosquito Lagoon, Florida. Journal of Shellfisheries Research 25:1079-1089.

Hartman M.J. and S.E. Stancyk. 2001. Distribution of an invasive anomuran decapod, Petrolisthes armatus, in the North Inlet-Winyah Bay national Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) on the South Carolina coast. Abstract. Second International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions. April 9-11, 2001. New Orleans, LA.

Hartman M.J. 2003. Population dynamics and trophic interactions of Petrolisthes armatus, an invasive decapod crustacean. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. University of South Carolina. 128 p.

Hollebone A.L. 2006. An Invasive Crab in the South Atlantic Bight: Friend or Foe? Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation. Georgia Institute of Technology. 133 p.

Knott D.M., Boyko C., and A. Harvey. 1999. Introduction of the green porcelain crab, Petrolisthes armatus (Gibbes, 1850) into the South Atlantic Bight. In: J. Pederson (Ed.). Marine Bioinvasions: the Proceedings of the First National Conference. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. pp. 404.

Knott D.M and R.A. King, undated. Petrolisthes armatus - an introduced species in the South Atlantic Bight? Southeastern Regional Taxonomic Center. 4 p.

Lohrer A.M. 2001. The threat of invasion in South Carolina estuaries: A focus of exotic decapod crabs. Paper presented at the 16th Biennial Conference of the Estuarine Research Federation, November 4-8, 2001. St. Petersburg Beach, FL.

Oliveira E. and S. Masunari. 1995. Estrutura populacional de Petrolisthes armatus (Gibbes) (Decopoda, Anomura, Porcellanidae) da Ilha do Farol, Matinhos. Parana, Brasil. Revista Brasilia Zoologica 12:355-371.

Roesijadi G., Petrocelli S.R., Anderson J.W., Presley B.J., and R. Sims. 1974. Survival and chloride ion regulation of the porcelain crab Petrolisthes armatus exposed to mercury. Marine Biology 27:213-217.

Petrolisthes armatus image
Petrolisthes armatus  
Petrolisthes armatus image
Petrolisthes armatus  
Petrolisthes armatus image
Petrolisthes armatus  
Petrolisthes armatus image
Petrolisthes armatus