Image: M. Blazewicz
Magdalena Blazewicz, from the University of Lodz in Poland, is in Australia for the next 16 months working with the Museum of Victoria to study the "underestimated" crustaceans, Tanaidacea. With a species of tanaids named "Zorro" due to its black stripe, and some of the male crustaceans having claws longer than their bodies, it is surprising to hear so few marine biologists specialise in tanaids.
"I think it is because they are very small and most people seem to want to work on something bigger, like the octopus," Magda said.
"In the Antarctic they can be up to 20 millimetres, but usually they are very small in the tropics – just a few millimetres. I think also you have to be very patient when working with tanaids as they are a cryptic species. Superficially they are very similar but you have to spend a lot of time looking at fine details to find new species," she said.
Image: M. Blazewicz
Before 2000, there were 800 known species described, and since then 200-300 more species have been described and an extra 500-600 are recognised but not yet to the stage of being described.
"So in seven years we've doubled the number of known species in the world. It shows that there are a lot of tanaids….they are an underestimated group," Magda said.
She said that only seven people around the world specialised in tanaids, and there was still so much more to learn.
"We don't know what tanaids eat. When you open the stomach you can see organic matter but we can't confirm exactly what it is. Some of the male tanaids have an extremely large claw – sometimes bigger than their body! We're not yet sure what the claw is for, perhaps helping it to climb. ….the tanaids can be found anywhere but each species has peculiar preferences for micro habitats."
Magda is here on Lizard Island due to a 6th Framework Program (Marie Curie Action) from the EU Commission, allowing her to come to Australia and work with taxonomists like Gary Poore, a crustacean specialist from the Museum of Victoria.
"The aim here is to look for the varied habitats and to catch new species. The coral reefs have not really been investigated. I hope to find many new species here…so far I have five or six," she said.