Did you know Australia is home to the world’s largest and smallest species of freshwater crayfish?

Stand by for an invasion of ‘crusty’ (and some not-so-crusty) specialists as the Crustacean Society and International Association of Astacology hold their mid-year conference at the Australian Museum this week.

The conference attracts scientists from the world over to share the latest research findings on all aspects of crustacean biology.

In case you were wondering, astacology is the study of crayfish, some of the most conspicuous of the crustaceans, but this diverse group also includes wood lice, barnacles and waterfleas, among many others.

Antarctic amphipod
An amphipod crustacean collected during an expedition to the Antarctic aboard the Aurora Australis. Image: Keith Martin-Smith
© Australian Antarctic Division, CSIRO

Keynote speaker Professor Justin Marshall of the University of Queensland explores the role of light in shaping visual ecology. ‘My principle aim is to understand how other animals perceive their environment’, Justin says.

For this work Justin focuses on the photogenic mantis shrimps, coral reef dwellers which reputedly have the most complex visual systems of any creature. In fact, unraveling how this all works in the mantis shrimps has led to potential technological advances in DVD design.

Justin also runs the Deep Australia Project, which is bringing research submersibles and high-tech deep-sea capability to Australia, and CoralWatch, the world’s largest citizen-science-based coral health assessment program involving 80 countries and 12 languages.

Keynote speaker Ronald Jenner from the Natural History Museum, London, investigates venom throughout the animal kingdom. Yes, it seems that some crustaceans are indeed venomous (though not poisonous – you can eat them, but don’t let them eat you!). He’ll be discussing the evolution of venom and what it can tell us about animal evolution.

Associate Professor Alastair Richardson is another keynote speaker who lectures on Australian freshwater crayfish, including the Tasmanian Giant Freshwater Lobster. After a 35-year career at the University of Tasmania, Alastair now works on the conservation and management of crayfish and is Academic Director of the Bookend Trust, a not-for-profit environmental educational trust.

The Australian Museum Research Institute’s Dr Shane Ahyong, another mantis shrimp aficionado, has played a central role in bringing this year’s conference to Sydney and the Australian Museum (which holds the most extensive crustacean collection in the Southern Hemisphere).

’I hope this will be a meeting of minds that pushes our knowledge and scientific outcomes, as well as the chance to have a bit of fun’, Shane says.