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The Name Game

Coral reef crab named after Harry Potter characters

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

7:00am, February 13, 2017
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.

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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.


J. Mendoza and P. Ng. Harryplax severus, a new genus and species of an unusual coral rubble-inhabiting crab from Guam (Crustacea, Brachyura, Christmaplacidae). ZooKeys. Vol. 647, January 23, 2017, p. 23. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.647.11455.

Further Reading

C. Crockett. Rock star Freddie Mercury now has his own space rock. Science News Online, September 9, 2016.

C. Martin. New species of hairy weevil named for Chewbacca. Science News. Vol. 189, June 11, 2016, p. 5.

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