From sea slugs and strelitzia flowers to entire slivers of coastline, there are already a number of things in the natural world named after the late South African president and global icon Nelson Mandela. Now, a new animal species has been added to that list: a tiny crustacean discovered off the South African coast.  

Nelson Mandela New Lobster Species 1 1
Image credit: Macpherson E et al / Natural History Museum, London.

Now known as Munidopsis mandelai, the new find is a type of squat lobster, a crustecean that resembles true lobsters, but is typically smaller and more flattened in shape. With a carapace that measures just 7mm in length, Munidopsis mandelai is pretty tiny, and was first discovered by researchers at a depth of 750m in a relatively unexplored area off the South African coast known as the Southwest Indian Ocean Ridge.

The researchers were conducting experiments on wood and whale bones submerged deep beneath the ocean's surface, which can support complex ecosystems of deep-sea organisms. When the tiny crustaceans were first brought to the surface in December 2011, they were initially assigned to an existing lobster species. However, after examining the specimens carefully, researchers noted enough anatomical differences to conclude that they were in fact dealing with a species previously unknown to science. 

Other species that pay homage to Mandela include a rare, yellow-flowered cultivar of the strelitzia flower (known as Mandela's Gold), as well as Mandelia mirocornata, a species of sea slug thought to be endemic to South Africa.

Full study published in the journal Zootaxa: Macpherson E et al. 2014. A new species of Munidopsis from a seamount of the Southwest Indian Ocean Ridge (Decapoda: Munidopsidae). Zootaxa, vol. 3753, no. 3, pp. 291-296; doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.3753.3.8

Top header image: Manos Matsakis, Flickr