Coral reef crab named after Harry Potter characters

16 years after its discovery, the crustacean is labeled a new species

Harryplax severus

ACCIO CRAB!  A newly identified crab species from Guam (Harryplax severus) is named after Harry Potter, the main character in J.K. Rowling’s popular books, and Harry Conley, who discovered the crab and had a knack for finding rare sea creatures, as if by magic.

Jose C. E. Mendoza (CC BY 4.0)

Deep beneath coral rubble in reefs off the coast of Guam, there lives a pale, black-eyed crab whose true taxonomic character has long been unknown.

In 2001, amateur researcher Harry Conley discovered the translucent crab burrowing among reef rocks. Eventually, two specimens — each several millimeters long — came to the lab of biologist Peter Ng at the National University of Singapore. Now, Ng and colleague Jose Mendoza have identified the quirky crustacean as a new species and bestowed on it the moniker Harryplax severus, the researchers report January 23 in ZooKeys.

The genus name honors two Harrys: Conley, who died in 2002 and had a reputation for finding otherworldly ocean critters, and Harry Potter, the titular character in J.K. Rowling’s popular books. Mendoza, a Potter fan, suggested the species designation severus — a reference to the books’ notoriously uptight and misjudged Severus Snape, whose true nature remains elusive until the series’ end.

H. severus belongs to a group of crabs first found in shadowy caves on Christmas Island. With small beady eyes, well-developed antennae, washed-out coloration and long legs, the crabs are suited to the dimly lit nooks and crannies of Guam’s rubble beds — a place where Snape, a prickly potions master who worked in a dungeon, might feel right at home.

Helen Thompson

Helen Thompson is the associate digital editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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