Subphylum Crustacea

Crustaceans surpass all other invertebrates in their direct contribution to human diets (from crabs, shrimp, lobsters, and crayfish) and are vitally important to many ecosystems, especially planktonic food webs. Unfortunately, they also foul boat hulls (barnacles) and destroy wooden piers in coastal waters (burrowing isopods).

Distinguishing characteristics of adults include the following: five-pairs of cephalic appendages (two mandibles, four maxillae, and two antennae), two to three tagmata, a chitinous cuticle often elaborated as a shieldlike carapace, more than 11 abdominal segments, and jointed, biramous appendages. Evolutionary trends involved specialization of mouthparts, body segments, and appendages for locomotion, sensory reception, and reproduction. Respiration is typically with gills, and hemocyanin is the principal respiratory pigment. Excretion of ammonia generally occurs through modified nephridia. Sexes are mostly separate, but hermaphroditism is common. Development always includes triangular nauplius larvae (with six appendages and a median eye), which are commonly planktonic. Many crustaceans have a relatively sophisticated behavioral repertoire and communicate visually, tactilely, and chemically.

Most of the roughly 50,000 species are marine, but crustaceans are ubiquitous in freshwater habitats and a few species have colonized saline lakes and terrestrial environments. Crustaceans are most often scavenging predators or have a generally omnivorous diet. They range in length from minute to truly gigantic (0.25 mm to 360 cm).

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