Crustaceans can be divided according to size into two main groups. The larger group, which is divided into the classes Branchiopoda, Copepoda, Ostracoda, and Cirripedia, includes the familiar shrimp, crayfish, lobsters, and crabs. The smaller group includes species that are either microscopic or range up to a few inches (about 5 cm) in size. Most of the smaller marine forms can be found in plankton (see marine biology) and thereby occupy an important position in the marine food chain. Other copepods supply food for small fish, and still others exist as parasites on the skin and gills of fish. Best known of the smaller freshwater crustaceans are members of the genus Daphnia (water fleas), the fairy shrimp (a phyllopod that swims inverted), and Cyclops (a copepod). The order Isopoda includes the only large group of truly terrestrial crustaceans. Known as wood lice, sow bugs, or pillbugs, these small animals can be found under the bark of trees, beneath stones and rocks, and in other damp places. When disturbed they curl up armadillolike, withdrawing into the exoskeleton.
All crustaceans have bilaterally symmetrical bodies covered with a chitinous exoskeleton, which may be thick and calcareous (as in the crayfish) or delicate and transparent (as in water fleas). Since it does not grow, the exoskeleton must be periodically molted when the animal undergoes metamorphosis (typically from free-swimming larva to adult) or simply outgrows its shell. The free-swimming larva characteristic of crustaceans, called a nauplius larva, has an unsegmented body, a median eye, and three pairs of appendages.
Like other arthropods, adult crustaceans have segmented bodies and jointed legs; the segments are usually grouped into a recognizable head, thorax, and abdomen. In the majority of larger crustaceans the head and thorax are fused into a cephalothorax, which is protected by a large shieldlike area of the exoskeleton called the carapace. The head bears two pairs of antennae, usually one median eye and two lateral eyes, and three pairs of biting mouthparts—the mandibles and the two pairs of maxillae. Crustacean appendages have undergone extensive adaptation for various tasks such as swimming, sensory reception, and walking. Many species have the first pair of thoracic appendages modified into claws and pincers. The gills are generally attached at the bases of the thoracic appendages, and the beating of the appendages creates a flow of water over the gills that facilitates respiration. Reproduction is sexual, and in most forms the sexes are separate. In many species the eggs are brooded beneath the abdominal segments of the female.
Crustaceans constitute the subphylum Crustacea of the phylum Arthropoda.
The scientific study of crustaceans is known as carcinology. Other names for carcinology are malacostracology, crustaceology and crustalogy, and a scientist who works in carcinology is a carcinologist, crustaceologist or crustalogist.
The main body cavity is an expanded circulatory system, through which blood is pumped by a heart located near the dorsum. The alimentary canal consists of a straight tube that often has a gizzard-like gastric mill for grinding food and a pair of digestive glands that absorb food. Structures that function as kidneys are located near the antennae. A brain exists in the form of ganglia close to the antennae, and a collection of major ganglia is found below the gut.
Although a few are hermaphroditic, most crustaceans have separate sexes, which are distinguished by appendages on the abdomen called swimmerets or, more technically, pleopods. The first (and sometimes the second) pair of pleopods are specialised in the male for sperm transfer. Many terrestrial crustaceans (such as the Christmas Island red crab) mate seasonally and return to the sea to release the eggs. Others, such as woodlice lay their eggs on land, albeit in damp conditions. In many decapods, the females retain the eggs until they hatch into free-swimming larvae.
The larval stage of a crustacean's life cycle is called a zoëa (pl. zoëal)s. This name was given to it when naturalists believed it to be a separate species. It follows the nauplius stage and precedes the post-larva. Zoëa larvae swim with their thoracic appendages, as opposed to nauplii, which use cephalic appendages, and megalopa, which use abdominal appendages for swimming. It often has spikes on its carapace, which may assist these small organisms in maintaining directional swimming. In many decapods, due to their accelerated development, the zoëa is the first larval stage. In some cases, the zoëa stage is followed by the mysis stage, and in others, by the megalopa stage, depending on the crustacean group involved.''
Six classes of crustaceans are generally recognised:
The exact relationships of the Crustacea to other taxa are not yet entirely clear. Under the Pancrustacea hypothesis , Crustacea and Hexapoda (insects and allies) are sister groups. Studies using DNA sequences tend to show a paraphyletic Crustacea, with the insects (but not necessarily other hexapods) nested within that clade.
The Late Jurassic lithographic limestones of Solnhofen, Bavaria, which are famous as the home of Archaeopteryx, are relatively rich in decapod crustaceans, such as Eryon (an eryonoid), Aeger (a prawn) or Pseudastacus (a lobster). The "lobster bed" of the Greensand formation from the Cretaceous period, which occurs at Atherfield on the Isle of Wight, contains many well preserved examples of the small glypheoid lobster Mecochirus magna. Crabs have been found at a number of sites, such as the Cretaceous Gault clay and the Eocene London clay.
Many crustaceans are consumed by humans, and nearly 10,000,000 tons were produced in 2005 . The vast majority of this output is of decapod crustaceans: crabs, lobsters, shrimp and prawns. Over 70% by weight of all crustaceans caught for consumption are shrimp and prawns, and over 80% is produced in Asia, with China alone producing nearly half the world's total. Non-decapod crustaceans are not widely consumed, with only 130,000 tons of krill being caught, despite krill having one of the greatest biomasses on the planet.