Accio Crab! Newfound Crab Honors Harry Potter and Professor Snape

harryplax severus
It may not have a magic wand, but this newly identified male Harryplax severus crab has a huge claw. (Image credit: Mendoze, J C.E. and Peter K.L. Ng. ZooKeys (2017))

A newfound crab named after "Harry Potter" wizards may not be magical, but its discovery is certainly enchanting.

The late Harry Conley, an ex-Marine turned researcher, unearthed the tiny crustacean while digging along the shores of Guam, a U.S. territory located in the western Pacific Ocean.

Twenty years passed between the time that Conley collected the crab and when researchers identified it as a new genus and species. Coincidentally, the scientists, one of them a self-proclaimed "Potterhead" seized the opportunity to name the undescribed critter Harryplax severus, after Harry Conley and J.K. Rowling's character, Harry Potter. [In Photos: A Bevy of Magical 'Fantastic Beasts']

The new crab is tiny — just 0.3 by 0.2 inches (7.9 by 5.6 millimeters), the researchers said. Conley found it while digging in the coral rubble and rocks along Guam's coast, about 6.5 feet (2 meters) below the water's surface during a low tide in 1998.

In the early 2000s, Conley gave his vast collections from Guam to Gustav Paulay, a curator of marine malacology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, who in turn gave them to Peter Ng, a biologist at the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the new study. (Malacology is a branch of zoology that studies mollusks.)

Ng and his co-author, Jose Christopher E. Mendoza, who is also a biologist at the National University of Singapore, named the newfound genus for Conley because his work has "substantially advanced the cause of marine science," they wrote in the study.

It's not wizard, but the newfound Harryplax severus is named for two characters from the Harry Potter series. (Image credit: Mendoze, J C.E. and Peter K.L. Ng. ZooKeys (2017))

And why Harry Potter? The researchers said the fictitious wizard's magical abilities aren't too different from Conley's talent for finding rare or new species. The idea was actually Mendoza's, who said he couldn't pass up the chance to include his favorite fictional character in the discovery. It wasn't hard to persuade Ng, who knew Conley and thought the ex-Marine would have liked the connection, he said.

The species name, severus, has two meanings. The name itself is Latin for "harsh," "rough" and "rigorous," which "alludes to the rigorous and laborious process by which this crab was collected," the researchers wrote in the study.

But "it is also an allusion to a notorious and misunderstood character in the Harry Potter novels, Professor Severus Snape, for his ability to keep one of the most important secrets in the story, just like the present new species, which has eluded discovery until now, nearly 20 years after it was first collected," they wrote.

H. severus lives at deep depths, but has adapted to its environment by evolving to have small eyes, well-developed antennae and long, slender legs, the researchers said.

The new study was published online today (Jan. 23) in the journal ZooKeys.

Original article on Live Science.

Laura Geggel

Laura is the archaeology and Life's Little Mysteries editor at Live Science. She also reports on general science, including paleontology. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scholastic, Popular Science and Spectrum, a site on autism research. She has won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association for her reporting at a weekly newspaper near Seattle. Laura holds a bachelor's degree in English literature and psychology from Washington University in St. Louis and a master's degree in science writing from NYU.