First records of the sponge crab Dromia personata (Brachyura) in the Netherlands and its historical findings in the North Sea
© The Author(s) 2017
Received: 4 August 2017
Accepted: 30 October 2017
Published: 10 November 2017
Only a few records exist of the sponge crab Dromia personata in the North Sea. Most records are in local languages, and have limited availability. On 11 August 2016, D. personata was found by divers in the Eastern Scheldt, a former estuary in the south-western part of the Netherlands. In the months to follow, at least four other individuals were observed by divers at the same and nearby locations. This paper lists these and former records in the North Sea. The distribution pattern, and the possible migration of the sponge crab in relation to environmental conditions such as seawater temperature are discussed, as well as the crab’s use of the non-native sponge Celtodoryx ciocalyptoides.
Dromia personata. Historic catches and recent observations in the North Sea
Name in reference
D. mediterranea, Leach
Found among Oysters from Whitstable Bay at Billingsgate market, London.
Communicated by Mr. J.E. Gray and presented at June 22, 1824
D. vulgaris Edw.
deep water in open sea off the Belgian coast
almost 110 mm
late Dec. 1912
Taken by the Lowestoft sailing-trawler ‘Giralda’, skipper J. Stead.
Specimen presented by Mr. F.C. Cook. Co-ordinate from internet
D. vulgaris Milne Edwards
Sandettie bank (SW-end)
= 35–37 m
50 × 40 mm
51° 11′ 30”
Dredged. Sandettie Bank rises up to −20 m, so catch must have been next to this bank. Specimen presented by Cyriel Pecceu, Nieuwpoort
D. vulgaris Milne Edwards
40 × 35 &
85 × 65 mm
Leloup 1941 footnote
NW 55° 15′
SE 54° 30’
Reported by letter 22 June, 1937 by Cyriel Pecceu, Nieuwpoort
1949 to 1964
D. vulgaris H. Milne- Edwards
within 5 nautical miles from the Belgian coast between Middelkerke & Wenduine
Leloup and Gilis 1965
Bycatch experimental shrimp fishery.
abundance cat. (3) = ‘assez rare’
D. personata (Linnaeus, 1758)
approximately near Fairy bank
NW 51° 24′ 00”
SE 51° 21′ 10”
002° 18′ 30″
002° 22′ 10″
In collection Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels
D. personata (Linnaeus, 1758)
2 locations Kent coast and 1 location Norfolk coast
Wash and Thames
Adema 1991: map 1
11–08 to 30–10
D. personata (Linnaeus, 1758)
16 records at 3 location in Eastern Scheldt, Netherlands
♂ & ♀
~ 55 mm
09–04 to 02–08
D. personata (Linnaeus, 1758)
3 records at 2 location in Eastern Scheldt, Netherlands
In 2016, several individuals of Dromia personata were found in the Eastern Scheldt, and these constituted the first records in the Netherlands. One was found on 11 August 2016, and was taken from its location (Zeelandbrug: 51° 37′ 44″ N, 3° 54′ 49″ E). Subsequently, at least 12 times between 14 August and 30 October 2016, D. personata was recorded (but not collected) again at the same location. The maximum number of sponge crabs observed per dive was two. Consequently, a minimum number of three individuals must have been present at the Zeelandbrug. The relatively high number of records at this location may reflect the popularity of this dive site. In addition, two more sponge crabs were found in the Eastern Scheldt, at Strijenham (51° 31′ 17″ N, 4° 08′ 28″ E) and Goesse Sas (51° 32′ 32″ N, 3° 55′ 52″ E). Considering the distance between these locations and the timing it is highly unlikely that these records represented the same individuals. Therefore, a total of at least five sponge crabs must have been present in the Eastern Scheldt in 2016.
In 2017, at least two individuals of Dromia personata were sighted in the Eastern Scheldt. On 9 April, a moribund sponge crab without cover was found at the Zeelandbrug and on 27 July and 2 August, a sponge crab was seen at Schelphoek (51° 41′ 02″ N, 003° 49′ 07″ E). This indicates that the local occurrence is not limited to a single-season event.
The carapace width of the first crab found was 55 mm, and the other crabs were of similar size. Both sexes were encountered; the females were non-ovigerous. In 2016, all sponge crabs were found with a cover of either the native sponge Halichondria panicea, or the non-indigenous sponge Celtodoryx ciocalyptoides. The crab of 27 July 2017 carried the soft coral Alcyonium digitatum on its back. As far as we know, only sponges and tunicates have been recorded as natural cover material. Therefore, this is the first case of a sponge crab with an alcyonacean cover. During the 2016 recording period, seawater temperature was 20 °C in August, dropping to 13 °C at the end of October.
Almost 200 years after the first record of Dromia personata in the North Sea, about 10 records are known from this continental sea. Approximate coordinates of catch locations could be deduced from the literature for only 4 specimens, the last one from 1953, which is 63 years before the present records. The discovery of at least 5 individuals, both males and females, at three locations in the Eastern Scheldt in 2016 constitutes a relatively large addition to both the number of records and the total number of individuals.
Considering the rarity of this species in the North Sea, finding at least 5 sponge crabs in such a short time frame is remarkable. On the other hand, finding several individuals within 1 year has happened before: in 1824 two specimens were found, and in 1937 3 specimens were reported. In Ireland, the first two specimens were found only 8 months apart in 2010 and 2011 (Quigley and O'Donovan 2013). Possibly, this species shows rapid expansions in certain years only.
Because Dromia personata is a Lusitanian species that reaches the limit of its northern distribution in the southern North Sea, its presence may be expected in years with high water temperatures. In recent decades, seawater temperatures have increased in the area and several species have demonstrated a northward shift in distribution (van der Kooij et al. 2016; Franke and Gutow 2004; Hiscock et al. 2004). Therefore, the chance of encountering the sponge crab in the Netherlands may also be increasing. This possibility is supported by other northern records of D. personata in the last decade: the first two Irish records (Quigley and O'Donovan 2013), and an increased occurrence in the Bristol Channel (Ashton et al. 2017).
Moreover, environmental conditions in the Eastern Scheldt may increasingly favour the presence of this species. In 1986, the Eastern Scheldt barrier was completed. This still allows a tidal regime, but tidal currents are diminished and light attenuation is decreased. The hard-substratum ecosystem has changed dramatically, notably due to the alien Japanese oyster Magallana gigas. Also, sponges and tunicates, used as camouflage by the sponge crab, are now omnipresent. Sponge crabs were observed not only bearing the native breadcrumb sponge Halichondria panicea but also the non-native sponge Celtodoryx ciocalyptoides. In recent years, thick layers of C. ciocalyptoides have developed into one of the most abundant sponges in the Eastern Scheldt (pers. obs.). Therefore, this sponge offers a favourable resource for crabs in search of cover material.
The distribution of Dromia personata suggests migration into the North Sea from the English Channel, either as larvae or as adults. As the last two pairs of the crab’s pereiopods are used for sponge-attachment, only two pairs of legs are used for locomotion. Although D. personata is able to walk at considerable speed over short distances if necessary (pers. obs.), its capacity to walk over long distances, for example from the English Channel to the Eastern Scheldt, is probably limited. The importance of larval transport should therefore not be underestimated. In recent years, several wind farms have been built in the Belgian part of the North Sea. The seabed around the wind turbines has been covered with stones. Perhaps these areas are used for settlement of sponge-crab larvae. As such, they may function as stepping stones between the English Channel and the Eastern Scheldt. However, underwater observations and catches, preferably of juveniles, have not yet been made to confirm this.
Finally, the appearance of the sponge crab may also be related to accidental introduction via mariculture, but this scenario is considered unlikely, due to absence or rarity in donor areas, and probably low survival during transport.
At least five individuals of Dromia personata were found in the Eastern Scheldt in the Netherlands in 2016 and 2017. These findings extend the known distribution range of this crab species and suggest a sudden increase in abundance.
We would like to thank Glen Biscop, Marianne Ligthart, Marco Vinke, Carl Verlinde, Martin Gruson, Stefan Verheyen, René van Zweden, Lilian Schoonderwoerd, Paul & Maria Engels, Kris’na Wouters, Mick Otten, Hans Vulink, Maurits van Kosteren and Astrid Vis for providing data and agreeing to its use in this manuscript. Furthermore, we thank Danny Eibye-Jacobsen, who kindly provided a pdf of Wolff 2002. We gratefully acknowledge the help of Susan Hewitt in checking writing style, spelling and grammar.
This study was self-funded.
Availability of data and materials
All data generated or analysed during this study are included in this published article and its supplementary information files.
FB and GvM made the initial observation leading to this report. GvM, FB and RN collected further observations, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
GvM is an independent marine ecologist and consultant. FB is a biologist focussing on marine ecology and research of historic data to reconstruct the composition of marine communities before intensive fisheries took their toll. RN is a molecular microbiologist at the Marine Animal Ecology group at Wageningen UR, with a strong interest in Dutch crustaceans. All three authors are avid scuba-divers and have logged hundreds of hours underwater in Dutch coastal waters.
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