USC Lecturer in Science Dr Greg Watson.
USC Lecturer in Science Dr Greg Watson. Contributed

Ghost crab not so transparent after all

JUST when we thought we knew everything there is to know about the nifty ghost crab, researchers have come forward with a new discovery.

A study into the ghost crab by USC researchers has revealed the crab, which is the top invertebrate predator and fastest crustacean on the beach, uses its burrows as a charging station for its body heat.

The depth of its home was also found to function as a finely-tuned thermostat.

Lead researcher, USC lecturer in Science Dr Greg Watson said the findings were published in the latest edition of international journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science and were based on field studies on Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay beaches.

The research team also included USC Associate Professor David Schoeman and Dr Jolanta Watson.


USC Lecturer in Science Dr Greg Watson.
USC Lecturer in Science Dr Greg Watson. Contributed

During research, Dr Watson said the team used thermal cameras to measure the temperature of the crab's shell and the heat inside their burrows.

"We gained novel insights into the ability of the crab, which like other cold-blooded creatures relies on external heat to regulate its body temperature, to exploit its environment to ensure its survival," he said.

As temperatures on the beach surface vary dramatically between night and day, it was discovered the ghost crab used the depth and gradient of its burrow to control its body heat.


"While we knew the crab uses its burrow to escape the sun's heat and hide from predators during the day, our findings indicate the burrow also provides a buffering from cold temperatures at night and gives the crab ready access to a thermal energy source," he said.

"As it carries out its nocturnal hunting and scavenging on the beach, it can keep visiting the base of burrow where it is warmer to rapidly recharge its body heat as it needs."

The burrow's heat was understood to also act like a front door light to guide the crab back from nightly scavenger hunts.