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Definition: crustacean from Philip's Encyclopedia

Any member of the class Crustacea, comprising c.30,000 species of arthropods. The class includes the decapods (crabs, lobsters, shrimps and crayfish), isopods (pill millipedes and woodlice) and many varied forms, most of which have no common names. Most crustaceans are aquatic and breathe through gills or the body surface. They are typically covered by a hard exoskeleton. They range in size from the Japanese spider crab up to 3m (12ft) across to the ocean plankton, as little as 1mm (0.04in) in diameter.

Summary Article: crustacean
From The Columbia Encyclopedia

(krŭstā'shӘn), primarily aquatic arthropod of the subphylum Crustacea. Most of the 44,000 crustacean species are marine, but there are many freshwater forms. The few groups that inhabit terrestrial areas have not been particularly successful in an evolutionary sense; most require very humid environments in order to survive.

Types of Crustaceans

The most important classes of Crustacea are Branchiopoda, which includes the brine shrimp; Maxillopoda, which includes the barnacles and copepods; Ostracoda, which includes the mostly very small seed shrimp; and Malacostraca, which includes the familiar shrimp, crayfish, lobsters, and crabs. Most of the smaller marine crustaceans can be found in plankton (see marine biology) and thereby occupy an important position in the marine food chain. For example, the crustacean subclass Copepoda supplies the food of the crustacean crustacean order Euphausiacea, the euphausids or krill, shrimplike creatures that are the food of baleen whales and other marine animals. Other copepods supply food for small fish, and still others exist as parasites on the skin and gills of fish. Best known of the smaller freshwater crustaceans are members of the genus Daphnia (water fleas), the fairy shrimp (a phyllopod that swims inverted), and Cyclops (a copepod). The order Isopoda includes the only large group of truly terrestrial crustaceans. Known as woodlice, sow bugs, or pillbugs, these small animals can be found under the bark of trees, beneath stones and rocks, and in other damp places. When disturbed they curl up armadillolike, withdrawing into the exoskeleton.

Crustacean Anatomy

All crustaceans have bilaterally symmetrical bodies covered with a chitinous exoskeleton, which may be thick and calcareous (as in the crayfish) or delicate and transparent (as in water fleas). Since it does not grow, the exoskeleton must be periodically molted when the animal undergoes metamorphosis (typically from free-swimming larva to adult) or simply outgrows its shell. The free-swimming larva characteristic of crustaceans, called a nauplius larva, has an unsegmented body, a median eye, and three pairs of appendages.

Like other arthropods, adult crustaceans have segmented bodies and jointed legs; the segments are usually grouped into a recognizable head, thorax, and abdomen. In the majority of larger crustaceans the head and thorax are fused into a cephalothorax, which is protected by a large shieldlike area of the exoskeleton called the carapace. The head bears two pairs of antennae, usually one median eye and two lateral eyes, and three pairs of biting mouthparts—the mandibles and the two pairs of maxillae. Crustacean appendages have undergone extensive adaptation for various tasks such as swimming, sensory reception, and walking. Many species have the first pair of thoracic appendages modified into claws and pincers. The gills are generally attached at the bases of the thoracic appendages, and the beating of the appendages creates a flow of water over the gills that facilitates respiration. Reproduction is sexual, and in most forms the sexes are separate. In many species the eggs are brooded beneath the abdominal segments of the female.


Crustaceans constitute the subphylum Crustacea of the phylum Arthropoda.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

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