White Phantom Crab

White Phantom Crab24″x36″

White Phantom Crab
Tanaoa distinctus


French Frigate Shoals, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands
Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

NOAA Vessel Oscar Sette, shipboard studio

Archival Pigment Print

A Polynesian myth tells of Tanaoa, the god of primeval darkness: After light came into being, he was banished to the depths of the ocean, where total darkness still reigns. The myth inspired a biologist studying the white phantom crab–an inhabitant of deep waters (up to 800 m [2,600 feet] or more) around tropical Pacific islands–to christen the crab and its close relatives “Tanaoa,” after the god.  The genus is a member of the purse crab family, named for the species’ very large abdomens (curled under the body as in all crabs) that form purse-like pockets in which females brood their embryos. Purse crabs live buried in sand with only their faces showing.