Spotlight: Dr. Rafael Lemaitre
Written by Adam Stergis
Born in the Caribbean city of Cartagena, Colombia, Dr. Rafael Lemaitre completed in that country his undergraduate degree in marine biology (1978) at the Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano. While preparing his thesis on the brachyuran crabs of the Bay of Cartagena, he connected with the well-known carcinologists John S. Garth and Patsy A. McLaughlin. He went on to complete his M.S. degree (1981) at Florida International University, and Ph.D. (1986) at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami. He naturalized as a citizen of the United States in 1987. Dr. Lemaitre was hired in 1989 as Supervisor for Benthic Crustacea at the Smithsonian Oceanographic Sorting Center, National Museum of Natural History, Washington DC. In 1992, he was appointed Research Zoologist/Curator in the Museum’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology, where he conducted his curatorial and research duties for 30 years until his retirement in 2019, including serving as Department Chair (2005–2008).
Dr. Lemaitre is an expert on the taxonomy, systematics and biogeography of decapod crustaceans, but centered most of his studies on the systematics of the Anomura, and hermit crabs or Paguroidea in particular. He began studies of the difficult deep-water family Parapaguridae for his Ph.D. dissertation and eventually published many papers documenting the alpha-taxonomy of this family worldwide. By the time of his retirement, he had published over 121 peer-reviewed papers. He was also one the founding members of the Crustacean Society for which he served as North American Governor (1997–2001) and President (2009–2011). Additionally, Dr. Lemaitre has served as associate editor and on editorial boards of various crustacean journals; Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Department of Biology, University of Louisiana at Lafayette; and Research Associate at the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle, Paris, and the Australian Museum, Sydney.
In his most recent scientific accomplishment, Dr. Lemaitre lead a team of international scientists to describe five new species and a new genus of blanket-hermit crabs. Unlike other hermit crabs, these extraordinary crustaceans do not search for empty shells to settle in for protection. Instead, species like the recently discovered Paguropsis confusa have developed a remarkable symbiosis with sea anemones to cover their soft bodies. To do this, the crabs use highly specialized chelipeds (pincers) to pull back and forth the anemone’s tissue to cover their bodies when necessary – much like hiding under a blanket. More information about this exciting research can be found at https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2018-04/pp-fnb042318.php