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I Dream Africa

I Dream Africa



Crustaceans form a very large group of arthropods, usually treated as a subphylum, which includes such familiar animals as crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill and barnacles. The 50,000 described species range in size from Stygotantulus stocki at 0.1 mm (0.004 in), to the Japanese spider crab with a leg span of up to 12.5 ft (3.8 m) and a mass of 44 lb (20 kg). Like other arthropods, crustaceans have an exoskeleton, which they molt to grow. They are distinguished from other groups of arthropods, such as insects, myriapods and chelicerates by the possession of biramous (two-parted) limbs, and by the nauplius form of the larvae.

Most crustaceans are free-living aquatic animals, but some are terrestrial (e.g. woodlice), some are parasitic (e.g. fish lice, tongue worms) and some are sessile (e.g. barnacles). The group has an extensive fossil record, reaching back to the Cambrian, and includes living fossils such as Triops cancriformis, which has existed apparently unchanged since the Triassic period. More than 10 million tons of crustaceans are produced by fishery or farming for human consumption, the majority of it being shrimps and prawns. Krill and copepods are not as widely fished, but may be the animals with the greatest biomass on the planet, and form a vital part of the food chain.

The body of a crustacean is composed of body segments, which are grouped into three regions: the head, the thorax, and the abdomen. The head and thorax may be fused together to form a cephalothorax, which may be covered by a single large carapace. The crustacean body is protected by the hard exoskeleton, which must be moulted for the animal to grow. The shell around each somite can be divided into a dorsal tergum, ventral sternum and a lateral pleuron.

Each somite, or body segment can bear a pair of appendages: on the segments of the head, these include two pairs of antennae, the mandibles and maxillae; the thoracic segments bear legs, which may be specialised as walking legs and feeding legs.

The abdomen bears pleopods, and ends in a telson, which bears the anus, and is often flanked by uropods to form a tail fan.

The main body cavity is an open circulatory system, where blood is pumped into the haemocoel by a heart located near the dorsum. The alimentary canal consists of a straight tube that often has a gizzard-like "gastric mill" for grinding food and a pair of digestive glands that absorb food; this structure goes in a spiral format. Structures that function as kidneys are located near the antennae. A brain exists in the form of ganglia close to the antennae.

Many terrestrial crustaceans (such as the Christmas Island red crab) mate seasonally and return to the sea to release the eggs. Others, such as woodlice, lay their eggs on land, albeit in damp conditions.

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