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The size and shape of baby blue crabs impacts their survival odds

In the wild, being born big and strong can be the difference between surviving and ending up as someone else’s dinner. For many species, the size and fitness of their parents will determine their own fitness from the start. But for baby blue crabs, a recent study published in Biological Bulletin reports some interesting differences.

Researchers from Rutgers University have discovered significant differences in the body structures of larval crab siblings and among larvae from different mothers in the wild. And unlike other crab species, the larval differences amongst blue crabs aren’t related to the size of their mothers. These differences can be very important, as babies from different mothers may swim or feed more efficiently depending on their size and shape.

The researchers assessed the offspring of 21 blue crabs, photographing larvae and examining their defense spines, swimming appendages, and overall size and shape.

In their earliest life stage, blue crab larvae look nothing like the adult crabs they may one day grow to be.

Early larval stages of crabs can be challenging to work with in the lab, but they are key life stages to study in order to understand blue crab populations,” says lead author Joseph Caracappa, a doctoral student at Rutgers’ Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory.

The blue crab fishery is extremely important to the eastern United States, and the states of New Jersey and Maryland in particular. Because of their importance, scientists have been studying them for over a century, but still don’t know much about their early life stages. This new discovery of their size and shape differences in early larval stages could provide important information about their ability to survive and sustain the commercial and recreational fisheries.

By Connor Ertz, Staff Writer

Image Credit: Joseph Caracappa/Rutgers University-New Brunswick

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