The mystery of the blind crabs of Jameos del Agua, Lanzarote 🦀🧐

Jameos del Agua blind crabs
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If you visit the Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote, you will see tiny white crabs at the bottom of the saltwater lagoon: did you know that the blind crabs of the Jameos del Agua are a unique species in the world, and that they are not only an icon of the Jameos but are considered the symbol of the entire island of Lanzarote? 🦀🌋 Well, get ready, because this is just the beginning of what you are going to discover today.

Where are the Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote? 📍

Located in the north of the captivating Lanzarote island, in the archipelago of the Canary Islands, the Jameos del Agua are a marvellous natural and tourist destination. Formed by the collapse of a lava tunnel created by the eruptions of the Corona Volcano, the Jameos offer a spectacular sight that combines geology and art thanks to the contributions of the local artist César Manrique. But Jameos del Agua is not only a tourist attraction, but also a sanctuary for one of the most enigmatic species in the world: its albino… and blind crabs.

The blind and albino crabs of the lagoon 🦀

In the serenity of the waters of the Jameos del Agua live small crabs, scientifically known as Munidopsis polymorpha. These crabs are unique because of their dual condition of albinism and blindness, an adaptation to life in complete darkness. Colloquially called jameitos (literally “little Jameos” in Spanish), their pearly white colour and size make them a biological jewel of this place.

The jameitos are an endemic crustacean species that, worldwide, only lives in the Jameos del Agua, in Lanzarote: hence their rarity, and the enormous importance of their conservation. Although blind, these crabs have particularly acute hearing and use their antennae to recognise their surroundings. They are rarely more than 2 centimetres long, so they are really small. They feed mainly on microscopic algae, and even though they are so small… they are very territorial and fiercely defend their space!

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How did they get there? 🧬

The most curious thing about the Jameos del Agua blind crabs is that their closest relatives live in the sea all over the Canary Islands… but at a depth of 4000 metres!!! 😲 It is therefore fascinating to think how these crabs ended up in an underground lake on the surface, so far away from their original habitat.

Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote Island

The most accepted theory today to explain this mystery is that, when the volcanic eruptions that later formed the volcanic tubes (the “jameos” that we know today as Jameos del Agua) occurred, a population of albino crabs became isolated from the rest; as the island of Lanzarote grew and emerged from the depths of the sea, these jameitos became separated from their abyssal counterparts and thrived in the jameos, thanks to the low light and constant temperature conditions they need to live.

Main features 🔍

As mentioned above, these crabs have a number of amazing adaptations:

Absence of vision:

Their eyes are non-functional, and have adapted to the absence of light in their habitat.

Albinism:

Lack of exposure to the sun has caused them to lose any pigmentation, making them practically transparent.

Size:

They are extremely small, which reduces their energy requirements. In addition, they have no large predators to defend themselves against in their natural habitat.

Sensitivity:

They have a strong sense of touch, and highly developed chemoreceptors for hunting and communication.

Why are they such an important species? 🦎

The blind crabs of Jameos del Agua are an extraordinary example that allows us to understand the evolution and adaptation of species to their environment. Their existence helps scientists to better understand how life can persist in extreme conditions, providing clues about the limits of life on Earth and, possibly, on other planets. Let’s not forget that they are a unique species in the world: if something were to happen to the crab population in Los Jameos… they would disappear, forever.

An endangered species ⚠️😥

Unfortunately, these peculiar creatures are threatened with extinction. Disturbances to their fragile ecosystem, whether from pollution introduced by visitors or changes to their delicate environment, can have devastating effects on them. Jameitos are very sensitive to changes in their habitat: for example, since they come from the depths of the ocean, they are particularly sensitive to light and noise, but especially to pollution, and are severely affected if there is any change in the water in the Jameos lagoon, which comes from the sea.

In fact, the opening of the Jameos del Agua to tourism has put them at serious risk of disappearance, not only because of the influx of tourists, but also because of the apparently harmless practice of many visitors to throw coins into the lagoon: as they corrode in the salt water, these coins oxidise and release metals that contaminate the aquatic environment where these delicate creatures live.

Today it is strictly forbidden to throw coins or any kind of object into the lagoon of Los Jameos, but the jameitos still face other dangers. Recently there have been several incidents with tourists who, disobeying the rules, even bathed in the water where these delicate creatures live (yes, sounds both stupid and unbelievable…) 🤬 The tourists were immediately expelled from the Jameos del Agua and condemned to pay fines of up to €3,000… but these are just some examples showing that there is still a long way to go to make people aware of the delicate ecosystem of the Jameos del Agua. 💧

Help us to protect and conserve the Jameos 🐟🛡️

It is imperative that all visitors to the Jameos del Agua in Lanzarote are aware of the importance of preserving this habitat. Conservation efforts are underway to ensure the survival of the Jameos blind crabs, and there are already plans to regulate or limit the influx of visitors (especially in the peak months). If tourist incidents continue to occur and awareness of the problem is not raised, further restrictions will probably be imposed.

The jameitos are more than a biological rarity; they are ambassadors of a hidden and fragile world that remind us of the importance of conservation and respect for the unique ecosystems of our planet. By visiting Lanzarote and the Jameos del Agua, you have the opportunity to admire not only the natural beauty of the Canary Islands, but also to witness the marvellous adaptation of life to the most extreme conditions. 🌍💧

From here we invite all nature lovers and curious travellers to experience this natural wonder; but please, do not forget that admiration for a place, must go hand in hand with respect and responsibility on the part of those who visit it. If you share these values, do not hesitate to come and meet the extraordinary blind crabs of the Jameos del Agua, in Lanzarote 🦀✨

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