Have you ever wondered how a new species is found? There are basically 3 ways:

  • A researcher reviews a group plants or animals by examining all existing collections, making new collections of the same group, making many observations and carrying out DNA analyses where possible. The analysis may reveal populations that don't fit any of the known species and these are then described as new species.
  • A specialist researcher who is very familiar with a group of animals of plants sees specimens that don't match up with anything the specialist knows. The same observations and analyses are made as above, and a new species is described.
  • A non-specialist tries to identify an animal or plant they have seen but cannot find it in the normal identification guides. They then may start checking the scientific literature and still get no-where. The next step is to start contacting the researchers who know about the groups. At that point one of the previous two processes kicks in. 

Here is a story that combines the third and first scenario above!

The regular discovery of new reef critters underlines the importance of national marine reserves such as Bunaken and PohPoh in North Sulawesi.

A fantastic new, amazingly cryptic crab from Indonesia has just been described and named after its finder, Maxi Tabolong of the Lumbalumba Resort south of Manado, in North Sulawesi.


Maxi Tabalong has incredibly sharp eyes and finds the smallest critters from tiny white Hairy Shrimps on white sand to tiny sea slugs on algae growing on steep drop-offs. About 9 years ago on Bunaken, he saw part of a colonial anemone (Epizoanthus) colony move. It was a crab!

Maxi had not been able to find out what the crab was, and the following year showed it to an underwater photographer, Andrew C. Podzorski, who specialized in small critters and fish. Photos were taken, an extensive collection of identification guides studied, and a wide search on internet made, but nothing similar was found.

The following year Maxi and Andrew searched for more crabs to photograph, and Maxi found one in the area around PohPoh. Armed with more photos the search continued, and specialists asked if they recognized the crab, but most couldn’t even recognize a crab in the photos.

Another year went by and then we got a lead from a researcher in Cambridge, England. There was a research group in Singapore that were working on crabs. Photos were sent to Singapore, and there was great interest, as they were sure it was a new Hyastenus crab.

In honour of the person that brought their old specimens to life, and alerted them to a possible new species, the crab was named Hyastenus tabalongi.

Hyostenus tabalongi

The legs, mouthparts and an eye can be seen in this photo if you look carefully.

An eye, almost central in the photo can be seen. Particular care was taken not to disturb the crabs for photography, as can be seen from the open anenomies.


Biodiversity research in Indonesia continuously reveals species that are new to science. This highlights the rich heritage that the Indonesian people have in their reefs. Protecting the reefs for future generations thus becomes even more important. Research is just scratching the surface of the wealth of life under the seas.