Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Harris mud crab)
- Summary of Invasiveness
- Taxonomic Tree
- Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature
- Distribution Table
- History of Introduction and Spread
- Risk of Introduction
- Habitat List
- Biology and Ecology
- Latitude/Altitude Ranges
- Water Tolerances
- Natural enemies
- Notes on Natural Enemies
- Means of Movement and Dispersal
- Pathway Causes
- Pathway Vectors
- Impact Summary
- Economic Impact
- Environmental Impact
- Risk and Impact Factors
- Similarities to Other Species/Conditions
- Prevention and Control
- Gaps in Knowledge/Research Needs
- Links to Websites
- Distribution Maps
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PicturesTop of page
IdentityTop of page
Preferred Scientific Name
- Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Gould, 1841)
Preferred Common Name
- Harris mud crab
Other Scientific Names
- Heteropanope tridentata (De Man, 1892)
- Heteropanope tridentata (Tesch, 1922)
- Pilumnus harrisii (Gould, 1841)
- Pilumnus tridentatus (Maitland, 1874)
- Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Rathbun, 1930)
- Rhithropanopeus harrisii ssp. tridentatus (Buitendijk and Holtuis, 1949)
International Common Names
- English: dwarf crab; estuarine mud crab; white-fingered mud crab; white-tipped mud crab; Zuiderzee crab
- Russian: golandsky crab
Local Common Names
- Denmark: ostamerikansk brakvandskrabbe
- Germany: Zuiderzeekrabbe
- Netherlands: zuiderzeekrabbetje
- Poland: krabik amerykanski
Summary of InvasivenessTop of page
R. harrisii is a small brackish water crab which belongs to the superfamily Xanthidae. It is native to the Atlantic coast of North America but has been introduced accidentally in over 20 different countries spanning both North and South America, Europe, northern Africa, and Asia (Roche and Torchin, 2007; Roche et al., 2009). Although R. harrisii has not yet been reported in Oceania, it figures among the top 30 species of concern from a list of 851 marine pests likely to invade Australia (Hayes and Sliwa, 2003). Possible vectors of introduction include accidental transport in vessel fouling, ballast water, and oyster shipments (Cohen and Carlton, 1995) as well as with fish stocking (Keith, 2008). Currently, no studies have quantified the impacts of R. harrisii on communities where it is introduced, but anecdotal evidence suggests that it may alter species interactions and cause some economic damage, notably through competition with native species, alteration of food webs, and fouling of water intake pipes (Roche and Torchin, 2007). R. harrisii’s tolerance to a broad range of environmental conditions, mainly salinity and temperature, is thought to have facilitated its success as a global invader (Williams, 1984; Petersen, 2006).
Taxonomic TreeTop of page
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Metazoa
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Subphylum: Crustacea
- Class: Malacostraca
- Subclass: Eumalacostraca
- Order: Decapoda
- Suborder: Reptantia
- Unknown: Xanthoidea
- Family: Panopeidae
- Genus: Rhithropanopeus
- Species: Rhithropanopeus harrisii
Notes on Taxonomy and NomenclatureTop of page
Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Gould, 1841), or the Harris mud crab, is a small euryhaline crab which reaches approximately 2 cm in carapace width as an adult and is greenish-brown in colouration. Its chelipeds are white at the tip and unequal in size. The front of its carapace is almost straight, slightly notched, with its margin transversely grooved, appearing double when viewed from the front. Four teeth (spines) line the side of its carapace below the eyestalks and its eight walking legs are long, thin and somewhat hairy (Ryan, 1956; Williams, 1984; Zaitsev and Öztürk, 2001). Illustrations of the crab are available in Williams (1984), in Christiansen (1969), and in Galil et al. (2002).
DescriptionTop of page
R. harrisii is a small euryhaline crab < 26 mm carapace width) which belongs to the family Panopeidae (mud crabs). Descriptions of the crab in its native range are provided in Rathbun (1930), Ryan (1956), Christiansen (1969), Williams (1984), and Galil et al. (2002) and are summarized below. The carapace is subquadrate and greatest in width at the fourth pair of lateral teeth, which line its sides below the eyestalks. The carapace is transversally and latitudinally convex. The front is slightly notched with its margin transversally grooved, appearing double when viewed from the front. The lateral teeth are not prominent and the first and second teeth are fused. The third, fourth and fifth teeth are blunt, pointing obliquely upward. The male’s abdomen has five segments: the third segment does not reach the coxae of the last pair of walking legs and the terminal segment has a rounded tip. The chelae are unequal in size and dissimilar. The major chela has a short fixed carpus and a strongly curved dactyl. The dactyl has a moderately developed basal tooth. The carpus has a subdistal groove and a tooth at an inner angle. The upper surface of the carpus is granular in juveniles, but smooth in adults. The walking legs are long, slender, compressed and somewhat hairy. The antennules have black chromatophores. The crab is generally brownish-green in colour with maroon blotches, but is often stained with bottom mud. The chelae are light at the tips with spots on the upper surface.
DistributionTop of page
In its native range, R. harrisii inhabits brackish waters along the east coast of North America from the Miramichi Estuary in New Brunswick, Canada, to Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico (Williams, 1984). Although recent publications cite a record of this species from Brazil, (e.g., Morgan et al., 1988; Abele and Kim, 1989; Gonçalves et al., 1995b; Zaitsev and Öztürk, 2001), the specimens originally reported by Williams (1965) were later re-examined and reclassified as another species by the same author (Williams, 1984). Currently, R. harrisii has been reported as a non-indigenous species in over 20 different countries (Roche and Torchin, 2007; Roche et al., 2009).
Distribution TableTop of page
The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.Last updated: 10 Jan 2020
|Continent/Country/Region||Distribution||Last Reported||Origin||First Reported||Invasive||Reference||Notes|
|Tunisia||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||Ben Souissi et al. (2004)||First recorded in 2003 in the South Tunis Lagoon (2 females, 7 and 12 mm cw)|
|Azerbaijan||Present, Widespread||Introduced||CABI (Undated)||First recorded in the South Caspian Sea in 1961; Original citation: Zaitsev and Öztürk (2001)|
|Iran||Present, Widespread||Introduced||CABI (Undated)||In 1970s, 760 ind/m2 in southeastern portion of Caspian Sea (Kasymov et al. 1974 cited in Zaitsev and Ozturk, 2001); Original citation: Zaitsev and Öztürk (2001)|
|Japan||Present||CABI (Undated a)||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Honshu||Present, Localized||Introduced||Iseda et al. (2007)||It was discovered in 2006 in Nagoya Canal in Nagoya City, Aichi prefecture (Honshu). 47 males, 39 females (8 ovigerous) were collected. The authors reanalyzed old samples from Kimura & Horii (2000) and found the R. harrisii had invaded the port of Nagora prior to the year 2000. They also suggest that their colleagues found R. harrisii in the ports of Nagoya, Osaka Bay and Tokyo Bay|
|Kazakhstan||Present, Widespread||Introduced||CABI (Undated)||Northeastern part of Caspian Sea; Original citation: Zaitsev and Öztürk (2001)|
|Turkmenistan||Present, Widespread||Introduced||CABI (Undated)||Area of first discovery in Caspian Sea - 1961; Original citation: Zaitsev and Öztürk (2001)|
|Uzbekistan||Present, Localized||Introduced||Andreyev and Andreyeva (1988)||Southern part of Aral Sea - first recorded in 1971|
|Belgium||Present||Introduced||Adema (1991); DAISIE (2009)|
|Bulgaria||Present||Introduced||Marchand and Saudray (1971)||First recorded in 1948 from the Black Sea (Beloslav Lagoon)|
|Denmark||Present, Localized||Introduced||Wolff (1954)||First recorded in 1953 in Copenhagen Harbour|
|France||Present||Introduced||Saudray (1956); Marchand (1972); Marchand (1979); Noël (2001)|
|Germany||Present||Introduced||Schubert (1936); Nehring (2000)|
|Italy||Present, Localized||Introduced||Mizzan and Zanella (1996); Galil et al. (2002)|
|Netherlands||Present, Widespread||Introduced||Maitland (1874)||First report in 1984 from the Zuiderzee now Ijsselmeer (last specimen found in 1943 after closure of Zuiderzee) now very scarce in dutch waters (Christiansen, 1969)|
|Poland||Present, Localized||Introduced||Demel (1953); Turoboyski (1973); Normant et al. (2004)|
|Portugal||Present, Localized||Introduced||CABI (Undated)||First reported in 1991 from the Estuary of the Mondego river (patchy distribution); Original citation: Gonçalves et al. (1995)|
|Romania||Present||Introduced||Bacescu (1967)||First reported in 1951 in the Black Sea (Razelm lagoon)|
|Russia||Present||CABI (Undated a)||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-Southern Russia||Present||Introduced||Gadzhiev (1963); Marchand and Saudray (1971); CABI (Undated)|
|Spain||Present, Few occurrences||Introduced||Mariscal et al. (1991)||First report in May of 1990 in Guadalquivir swamp (25 males, 3 females - considered established population)|
|Ukraine||Present||Introduced||Makarov (1939); CABI (Undated)|
|United Kingdom||Present, Localized||Introduced||Eno et al. (1997)||First reported in 1996. Found in Roath Docks, Cardiff, South Wales. Established throughout Cardiff Docks in water at 12 ppt|
|Canada||Present||CABI (Undated a)||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-New Brunswick||Present, Localized||Native||Williams (1984)||Northernmost part of native range - restricted to estuaries|
|Mexico||Present, Localized||Native||Williams (1984)||Southernmost part of native range - restricted to estuaries|
|Panama||Present||Introduced||Abele and Kim (1989); Roche and Torchin (2007); Roche et al. (2009)|
|United States||Present||CABI (Undated a)||Present based on regional distribution.|
|-California||Present, Localized||Introduced||Jones (1940); Petersen (2006);|
|-Delaware||Present, Localized||Native||McDermott and Flower (1952)||Upper Delaware Bay|
|-Florida||Present, Localized||Native||Odum and Heald (1972)||Estuaries streams in southern Florida|
|-Maryland||Present, Widespread||Native||Ryan (1956)||Chesapeake Bay|
|-North Carolina||Present, Localized||Native||Petersen (2006)||Neuse River|
|-Oregon||Present, Localized||Introduced||Petersen (2006);|
|-Texas||Present, Localized||Williams (1984); Keith (2008)|
|-Virginia||Present, Widespread||Native||Ryan (1956)||Chesapeake Bay|
|Atlantic - Northeast||Present, Localized||Introduced||Wolff (1954)|
|Atlantic - Northwest||Present, Widespread||Native||Williams (1984)||Native range - up to New Brunswick (Canada)|
|Atlantic - Western Central||Present||Williams (1984); Roche and Torchin (2007)|
|Mediterranean and Black Sea||Present||Marchand and Saudray (1971); Ben Souissi et al. (2004)|
|Pacific - Eastern Central||Present, Localized||2001||Introduced||Petersen (2006)||Oregon, California|
|Brazil||Absent, Invalid presence record(s)||Williams (1965)||Specimens originally reported by Williams (1965) were later re-examined and reclassified as another species by the same author (Williams, 1984)|
|Venezuela||Absent, Unconfirmed presence record(s)||1956||Rodríguez (1963)||Reported from the estuary of Lake Macaraibo at salinities between 2 and 22 ppt|
History of Introduction and SpreadTop of page
In the United States, R. harrisii invaded San Francisco Bay between the late 1800s and the early 1900s, likely via translocations of the Atlantic oyster, Crassostrea virginica, from Chesapeake Bay in an attempt to initiate commercial oyster aquaculture (Cohen and Carlton, 1995; Ruiz et al., 1997; Wasson et al., 2001). Since then, R. harrisii has expanded its range northwards along the coast of California and Oregon, reaching several bays and estuaries where populations persist (Petersen, 2006). Interestingly, on the Atlantic Coast, the crab appears to have expanded its native range inland, successfully invading freshwater impoundments in Texas, where it has established reproducing populations (Howells, 2001; Keith, 2008).
IntroductionsTop of page
|Introduced to||Introduced from||Year||Reason||Introduced by||Established in wild through||References||Notes|
|Natural reproduction||Continuous restocking|
|California||USA||1937||Yes||No||Cohen and Carlton (1995); Jones (1940); Ruiz et al. (1997); Wasson et al. (2001)||First observed in the Pacific (1937) in Lake Merritt, Oakland, a brackish water lake near a shipping harbour. It invaded San Francisco Bay (late 1800s-early 1900s) presumably via translocations of Atlantic oyster|
|Europe||North America||late 1800s||Yes||No||Christiansen (1969); Demel (1953); Maitland (1874); Makarov (1939); Marchand and Saudray (1971); Saudray (1956); Schubert (1936); Wolff (1954); Zaitsev and Öztürk (2001)||Maitland (1874) initially described R. harrisii as a native species, Pilumnus tridentatus, in the Netherlands. It was reported from Germany (1936), Ukraine (1932-1936), Russia (1948), Poland (1951), Denmark (1953) and France (1955)|
|Japan||<2000||Yes||No||Iseda et al. (2007)|
|Oregon||California||early 1900s||Yes||No||Petersen (2006)||Molecular evidence suggests that current Pacific populations descend from a single introduction event and that the presence of R. harrisii in Oregon resulted from a northward range expansion|
|Panama||1969||Yes||No||Abele and Kim (1989); Roche et al. (2009)||Five specimens of R. harrisii were collected in the Panama Canal in 1969 but the crab was not considered to be established. In 2007 two populations were discovered in the Miraflores Third Lock Lagoons, adjacent to the Panama Canal|
Risk of IntroductionTop of page
To date, R. harrisii has successfully colonized several different habitats ranging from freshwater lakes in Texas, bays and estuaries on the eastern and western Pacific, ports and estuaries in the Mediterranean, in inland Europe and Asia, and also a tropical lagoon system in Panama (reviewed in Roche and Torchin, 2007). At present time, its introduced range spans more than 45° of latitude (Roche et al., 2009) and its tolerance to a wide range of environmental conditions is likely to promote further spread (Turoboyski, 1973; Williams, 1984; Petersen, 2006). Recently, R. harrisii has been identified as one of the top 30 species of concern from a list of 851 marine pests likely to invade Australia (Hayes and Sliwa, 2003). There is also a risk that it may reach New Zealand given its recent occurrence in Japan, the source country of two other decapods introduced to New Zealand (see Brockerhoff and McLay, 2008).
HabitatTop of page
R. harrisii is tolerant to a wide range of salinities and is typically associated with sheltered estuarine habitats (Roche and Torchin, 2007). The crab usually inhabits oyster reefs, woody debris and shoreline vegetation and has previously been recorded at a depth of approximately 37 m (Turoboyski, 1973; Williams, 1984; Petersen, 2006). Although it is a mud crab, R. harrisii will avoid mudflats and areas of the bottom which are muddy but devoid of shelter (Turoboyski, 1973). Turoboyski (1973) points out that, in Poland, the distribution of R. harrisii in the Dead Vistula was markedly limited by the composition of the substrate and the availability of shelters. In its native range, in Chesapeake Bay, Ryan (1956) found the crab between 0 and 10 m depth and between 2.8 and 18.6 ppt salinity. He also noted that R. harrisii was the only species of Xanthidae studied in Chesapeake Bay known to occur in freshwater. Similarly, in the Newport River Estuary, North Carolina, Cronin (1982) found crabs in salinities varying between 0.5 and 25 ppt. Adult crabs have previously been observed to migrate into freshwater (Williams, 1984), but low salinity is believed to be the most important factor limiting the distribution of R. harrisii larvae which typically have reduced survival rates below 5 ppt (Costlow et al., 1966; Christiansen and Costlow, 1975; Cronin, 1982; Gonçalves et al., 1995a). Nonetheless, reproducing populations have recently been found in water bodies with salinities as low as 0.4 ppt (Keith, 2008; Roche et al., 2009).
Habitat ListTop of page
|Inland saline areas||Present, no further details|
|Coastal areas||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Coastal areas||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
|Intertidal zone||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Natural|
|Lakes||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Reservoirs||Secondary/tolerated habitat||Harmful (pest or invasive)|
|Rivers / streams||Present, no further details||Productive/non-natural|
|Inshore marine||Principal habitat||Natural|
|Inshore marine||Principal habitat||Productive/non-natural|
Biology and EcologyTop of page
Latitude/Altitude RangesTop of page
|Latitude North (°N)||Latitude South (°S)||Altitude Lower (m)||Altitude Upper (m)|
Water TolerancesTop of page
|Parameter||Minimum Value||Maximum Value||Typical Value||Status||Life Stage||Notes|
|Depth (m b.s.l.)||0||10||Optimum||Found to depth of 36.6 m in its native range (Williams, 1984)|
|Salinity (part per thousand)||10||20||Optimum||0.2-40 tolerated. Lower and upper limits of tolerance differ among studies/populations|
|Water temperature (ºC temperature)||20||25||Optimum||0-35+ tolerated (Christiansen and Costlow, 1975). Lowest temperature tolerance has not been assessed in the lab., but the crab thrives in New Brunswick, where water temperatures are near freezing|
Natural enemiesTop of page
|Natural enemy||Type||Life stages||Specificity||References||Biological control in||Biological control on|
|Ameiurus catus||Predator||Adult||not specific||Williams, 1984|
|Anguilla anguilla||Predator||Adult||not specific||Turoboyski, 1973|
|Loxothylacus panopaei||Parasite||Adult/Larval||to species||Grosholz and Ruiz, 1995|
|Minchinia||Parasite||not specific||Marchand, 1974|
|Myoxocephalus scorpius||Predator||Adult||not specific|
|Platichthys flesus||Predator||Adult||not specific|
|Zoarces viviparus||Predator||Adult||not specific|
Notes on Natural EnemiesTop of page
Several predators have been reported to feed on R. harrisii: the white catfish, Ictalurus catus, in the crab’s native range (Heard, 1975 cited in Williams, 1984); the European eel, Anguilla anguilla, in Poland (Turoboyski, 1973); the flounder Pleuronectes flesus, the sculpin Myoxocephalusscorpius, and the blenny Zoarces viviparus in the Bay of Gdansk in the Baltic Sea (Kujawa, 1965); and sturgeon species in the Caspian Sea (Zaitsev and Öztürk, 2001). R. harrisii’s most important natural enemy, however, is probably the introduced rhizocephalan barnacle, Loxothylacus panopaei.L. panopaei is native to the Gulf of Mexico, but was introduced to Chesapeake Bay around 1969, where it parasitizes R. harrisii (Grosholz and Ruiz, 1995). Female larvae of L. panopaei typically infect recently moulted crabs and develop as an endoparasite; this initial infection is followed by the emergence of an externa (the reproductive body of the parasite) through the abdomen of the crab, which then has to be fertilized by a male L. panopaei larva for the parasite to mature and reproduce (Walker et al., 1992; Alvarez et al., 1995; Glenner et al., 2000). Parasitism by a rhizocephalan results in complete castration and cessation of growth in the host crab (Alvarez et al., 1995). In Chesapeake Bay, R. harrisii is most abundant in areas of the bay where the water is below 10 ppt salinity, conditions which do not allow the survival of L. panopaei (Walker et al., 1992; Grosholz and Ruiz, 1995; Petersen, 2006). Currently, no specimens of R. harrisii have been reported to harbour L. panopei outside of the crab’s native range. However, a protozoan parasite of the genus Minchinia (Haplosporidiidae), which is also present in Chesapeake Bay, has been reported to parasitize an introduced population in the Canal de Caen, France (Marchand, 1974). According to Marchand (1974), infections by the protozoan significantly reduced the abundance of R. harrisii by lowering the competitive ability of parasitized individuals. Lastly, Payen and Bonami (1979) identified particles of a white spot baculovirus in the testicular germinative zone of R. harrisii from North Carolina, but did not examine the effects of the virus on its host or reported introduced populations harbouring the disease.
Means of Movement and DispersalTop of page
Natural Dispersal (Non-Biotic)
Pathway CausesTop of page
|Aquaculture||From Chesapeake Bay (Atlantic USA) to San Francisco Bay (Pacific USA)||Yes||Cohen and Carlton, 1995; Ruiz et al., 1997; Wasson et al., 2001|
|Hitchhiker||On ships from North America to Europe, Panama and Japan||Yes||Christiansen, 1969; Iseda et al., 2007; Roche et al., 2009|
Pathway VectorsTop of page
Impact SummaryTop of page
Economic ImpactTop of page
In Texan impoundments and in the Caspian Sea, where R. harrisii reaches high densities, the crab is reported to cause fouling problems in water intake pipes of shoreline properties and also of nuclear power plants (Glen Rose, Texas) (Zaitsev and Öztürk, 2001; Keith, 2008). In the Caspian Sea, R. harrisii is reported to cause economic losses to fishermen by spoiling fishes in gill nets (Zaitsev and Öztürk, 2001).
Environmental ImpactTop of page
Impact on Habitats
At the present time, no studies have quantified the impacts of R. harrisii on the communities where it has been introduced. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the crab may alter species interactions and cause some economic damage (reviewed in Roche and Torchin, 2007).
Impact on Biodiversity
In Europe and on the West Coast of North America, R. harrisii is said to compete with native crabs (Marchand and Saudray, 1971; Jazdzewski and Konopacka, 1993; Cohen and Carlton, 1995) as well as with species of fish feeding on benthos (Zaitsev and Öztürk 2001) and can alter food webs by acting as a predator and serving as prey of native species (Turoboyski, 1973; Cohen and Carlton, 1995; Zaitsev and Öztürk, 2001). In Texas, R. harrisii’s presence in inland impoundments may have displaced a native species of freshwater crayfish (Keith, 2008). According to Payen and Bonami (1979), R. harrisii can also be a potential host of white spot baculoviruses, which can be transmitted to co-occurring native crustaceans.
Risk and Impact FactorsTop of page Invasiveness
- Proved invasive outside its native range
- Has a broad native range
- Abundant in its native range
- Highly adaptable to different environments
- Is a habitat generalist
- Pioneering in disturbed areas
- Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
- Fast growing
- Has high reproductive potential
- Has high genetic variability
- Altered trophic level
- Infrastructure damage
- Negatively impacts livelihoods
- Competition - monopolizing resources
- Competition (unspecified)
- Pest and disease transmission
- Highly likely to be transported internationally accidentally
- Difficult to identify/detect as a commodity contaminant
- Difficult to identify/detect in the field
- Difficult/costly to control
UsesTop of page
In its native range, R. harrisii has been used repeatedly as an experimental animal in developmental and physiological studies as well as in experimental studies testing the effects of pesticides on aquatic invertebrate fauna. Williams (1984) lists a number of these studies with accompanying references: Jones (1941) and Capen (1972), osmoregulation; Christiansen et al. (1977a,b), effects of hormone mimics on development; (Costlow, 1966), effect of eyestalk removal on development; Costlow and Sastry (1966), free amino acids in development stages; Forward (1976), shadow-sinking response of larvae; Gooch (1977) and Morgan et al. (1978), allozyme genetics; Kalber and Costlow (1966; 1968), ontogeny of osmoregulation and its neurosecretory control; Rosenberg and Costlow (1976), effects of cadmium on development. Other studies not listed by Williams (1984) include: Payen and Costlow (1977) effects of a juvenile hormone mimic on gametogenesis; Christiansen (1978) and Christiansen and Costlow (1980; 1982), effects of the insect growth regulator Dimilin on adults and larvae; Clare et al. (1992), developmental toxicity of four pesticides; Celestial et al. (1994), effects of an insect growth regulator (S-methoprene) on larval development; Nates and McKenney (2000), effects of the insect juvenile hormone analogue fenoxycarb on larval growth; Cripe et al. (2003) effects of fenoxycarb exposure on larval development; McKenney (2005), effects of juvenile hormone agonists (pyriproxyfen, methoprene and fenoxycarb) on metamorphosis and reproduction.
DiagnosisTop of page
R. harrisii can easily be mistaken for other species of xanthid crabs and even crabs from other closely related families. For instance, in the eastern USA, Petersen (2006) states that similarities in the general morphology of R. harrisii and the co-occurring indigenous shore crab Hemigrapsus oregonensis would make it difficult for non-specialists to distinguish both species (see Figure 1 in Petersen, 2006).
Similarities to Other Species/ConditionsTop of page
R. harrisii is a small and cryptic crab which can easily be mistaken for many other brackish and marine xanthids (e.g. Panopeus cf miraflorensis in Panama, Abele and Kim, 1989; Pilumnopeus makianus in Japan, Iseda et al., 2007). Features which can be used to distinguish R. harrisii from other xanthid crabs are the following: chelae white at the tip, slight notch on the frontal margin, margin transversally grooved, moderately developed basal tooth on dactyl of the major chela, red spot absent on inner surface of third maxilliped.
Prevention and ControlTop of page
Due to the variable regulations around (de)registration of pesticides, your national list of registered pesticides or relevant authority should be consulted to determine which products are legally allowed for use in your country when considering chemical control. Pesticides should always be used in a lawful manner, consistent with the product's label.
As dispersal via hull fouling of ships is believed to have decreased with the advent of metallic hulls and antifouling paints (Rodríguez and Suárez, 2001), the major current vector of introduction for R. harrisii is likely to be transport in ballast water tanks (Brockerhoff and McLay, 2008). Therefore, reducing the discharge of overseas ballast water from ships is potentially an effective method of decreasing the risk of invasion by R. harrisii. In the Great Lakes, the USA and Canada have implemented regulations for mid-ocean ballast exchanges to reduce propagule pressure at ports of arrival (Costello et al., 2007). Although some authors question the effectiveness of ballast water exchanges due to continued discoveries of introduced species in the Great Lakes, Costello et al. (2007) argue that several more years of data collection will be required to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of this prevention method as recent detections are likely to result from a lag between introduction and detection. Other countries such as Australia and New Zealand have also implemented mandatory ballast water exchanges following the guidelines of the International Convention on the Control and Management of Ship’s Ballast Water and Sediments - BWM (Hewitt and Campbell, 2007). This convention was adopted by the International Maritime Organization in 2004 but the date of entry into force has yet to be determined (BWM, 2005).
Citizen science initiatives, whereby volunteers are trained to identify introduced species and report their presence, are increasingly advocated by researchers because they reduce the costs associated with environmental assessments and detection of invasive species (Fore et al., 2001; Delaney et al., 2008). Despite the highly cryptic nature of xanthid mud crabs, non-specialists have previously identified R. harrisii outside of its native range in the past (Makarov, 1939; Marchand, 1972) and public awareness programmes may prove useful to identify future introductions of this species in areas which are prone to invasion, such as Australia (see Hayes and Sliwa, 2003).
Eradication of R. harrisii has never been attempted in the past, but initiatives are currently being undertaken by the Panama Canal Authority to extirpate populations discovered at a site designated for the expansion of the Panama Canal (see Roche et al., 2009).
Studies have shown that trapping can prove useful to mechanically control introduced crustaceans such as the rusty crayfish, Faxonius rusticus (Hein et al., 2006; 2007). However, this method is unlikely to be effective against R. harrisii since few individuals have been observed to enter traps, even when baited (Petersen, 2006; D Roche, McGill University, Montreal, Canada, personal communication, 2009). Roche et al. (2009) used collectors made of artificial habitat to survey populations of R. harrisii in vicinity of the Panama Canal, but these collectors have never been used as a means of controlling the crab and it is unclear whether removing crabs with this technique could substantially reduce their abundance in the field.
Two means of biological control have been considered so far for managing introduced populationsof R. harrisii. In Glen Rose, Texas, where the crab is reported to cause fouling problems in the cooling system of a nuclear power plant, a consulting firm is currently evaluating the potential for native fish to prey on the crab and reduce its abundance in freshwater impoundments (G Hildebrand, Austin Ecology, Texas, USA, personal communication, 2009). Predation by fish has previously been shown to significantly reduce the population density of other introduced crustaceans in freshwater systems (e.g. Hein et al., 2007). Other suggested biological control agents are parasitic rhizocephalan barnacles. The rhizocephalan Loxothylacus panopaei infects R. harrisii in the crab’s native range and has been shown to stunt growth and castrate adult crabs, preventing further reproduction (Alvarez et al., 1995). L. panopaei is native to the Gulf of Mexico, where it infects seven species of xanthid crabs, but in upper Chesapeake Bay, where it is introduced, its life cycle involves no hosts other than R. harrisii (Grosholz and Ruiz, 1995). Biological control of R. harrisii could therefore be investigated either by using native rhizocephalans to infect the crabin its introduced range or by introducing L. panopaei as a control agent where it is not native. Extensive research will be required, however, before implementing either of these methods in order to determine both the host specificity of the chosen parasite and potential undesired effects to non-target species (see Goddard et al., 2005).
Diflubenzuron, the active compound in the pesticide Dimilin, is a chitin inhibitor which prevents cuticle formation in arthropods. Since it disrupts moulting, diflubenzuron is highly toxic to early life stages of crustaceans and has been suggested for chemical control of R. harrisii (McEnnulty et al. 2001). Christiansen et al. (1978) found that it was lethal to all larval stages of R. harrisii at a concentration of 10 mg/L and observed 100% mortality within 12 days of exposure (95% mortality was observed after three days). Christiansen and Costlow (1980) observed no reduction in mortality rates of the larvae until 21 days after the application of diflubenzuron in brackish water and found that eight weeks were required for the compound to degrade below a level at which R. harrisii larvae were no longer affected (1 mg/L; Christiansen et al., 1978). However, a range of degradation rates have been reported for diflubenzuron in the literature, which vary primarily on the basis of on temperature and pH differences (reviewed in Fischer and Hall, 1992). To date, Dimilin has not been employed to control populations of R. harrisii in the field and careful preliminary trails should be conducted to determine the effectiveness, persistence, and non-target effects of this pesticide under given environmental conditions (see Bax et al., 2001).
Monitoring and Surveillance
Monitoring is crucial for early detection of novel invaders and allowing the possibility of rapid response to improve the likelihood of successful eradication (FICMNEW, 2003; NISC, 2003). In aquatic systems, eradication is highly dependent upon monitoring and early detection since extirpation is generally impossible when invaders become abundant and populations are not localized (Bax et al., 2001; but see Edwards and Leung, 2009). However, detecting cryptic invaders such as R. harrisii before they become abundant and spread is a challenging task. As time and resources limit the extent of monitoring programs, the likelihood of early detection can be improved by targeting likely points of entry and areas of suitable habitat (NISC, 2003; Pederson et al., 2003; Meinesz, 2007). In the case of R. harrisii, monitoring can involve surveying brackish water habitats in areas of high shipping traffic such as ports and canals. This can be achieved with the use of crab collectors (Roche et al., 2009), which are similar to settlement plates for monitoring sessile marine invertebrates (see Hewitt and Martin, 2001). Another possible monitoring technique is the use of plankton tows in areas of high invasion risk (Hewitt and Martin, 2001) with assistance from taxonomists (Hewitt and Martin, 2001; FICMNEW, 2003) and the use of molecular tools (Darling and Blum, 2007) to identify the presence of R. harrisii larval stages in the water column.
Gaps in Knowledge/Research NeedsTop of page
Much research has been conducted on R. harrisii in its native and introduced ranges, which has contributed to our knowledge of its biology and ecology. However, little is currently known about the crab’s impacts in its introduced range, aside from anecdotal reports, and quantitative studies are urgently needed to evaluate the potential damages caused by this increasingly widespread invader. Furthermore, means of controlling or eradicating the crab have been suggested, but they remain to be tested in order to establish protocols for managing invasions of R. harrisii when they occur.
ReferencesTop of page
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Marchand J, 1979. [English title not available]]. (Observations sur des populations naturelles de Rhithropanopeus harrisii tridentatus dans l'estuaire de la Loire: Fréquence des mues et taux de croissance des femelles adultes.). Cahiers de biologie marine. 461-469.
Marchand J, Saudray Y, 1971. [English title not available]]. (Rhithropanopeus harrisii Gould tridentatus Maitland (Crustacé - Décapode - Brachyoure), dans le réseau hydrographique de l'ouest de l'Europe en 1971.). Bulletin de la Société Linnéenne de Normandie. 105-113.
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Normant M, Miernik J, Szaniawska A, 2004. Remarks on the morphology and the life cycle of Rhithropanopeus harrisii ssp tridentatus (Maitland) from the Dead Vistula River. Oceanological and Hydrobiological Studies. 33 (4), 93-102.
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Roche D G, Torchin M E, 2007. Established population of the North American Harris mud crab, Rhithropanopeus harrisii (Gould 1841) (Crustacea: Brachyura: Xanthidae) in the Panama Canal. Aquatic Invasions. 2 (3), 155-161. http://www.aquaticinvasions.ru/2007/AI_2007_2_3_Roche_Torchin.pdf DOI:10.3391/ai.2007.2.3.1
Roche D G, Torchin M E, Leung B, Binning S A, 2009. Localized invasion of the North American Harris mud crab, Rhithropanopeus harrisii, in the Panamà Canal: implications for eradication and spread. Biological Invasions. 11 (4), 983-993. http://www.springerlink.com/content/55p58147r12t575q/?p=7e4db05d2d5e4bf1a6e1eebc2e38ce54&pi=18 DOI:10.1007/s10530-008-9310-6
Saudray Y, 1956. [English title not available]]. (Présence de Heteropanope tridentatus Maitl. Crustacé brachyoure dans le réseau hydrographique normand.). Bulletin de la Société Zoologique de France. 33-35.
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OrganizationsTop of page
Europe: DAISIE - Delivering Alien Invasive Species Inventories for Europe, Web-based service, http://www.europe-aliens.org
UK: Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Monkstone House, City Road, Peterborough, PE1 1JY, http://www.jncc.gov.uk/
Canada: Sealifebase, Web based, www.sealifebase.org
New Zealand: World Register of Marine Speces (WoRMS), firstname.lastname@example.org, http://www.marinespecies.org/
ContributorsTop of page
25/05/09 Original text by:
Dominique Roche, McGill University - STRI, Department of Biology, Canada
Distribution MapsTop of page
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