Would it be possible for a race of crustacean humanoids to live as nomads in a desert environment? I want them to have crab-like faces and crab-like skin with humanoid bodies. Would they survive in that environment? What would they need to survive both biologically/anatomically and clothing/equipment wise.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, user93310, sorry to be a curmudgeon, but crabs don't have skin, actually they do, but the important bit is they have carapaces. That's the hard stuff on the outside of their bodies. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Dec 6 '17 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ way too broad and opinion based, please narrow your focus to a single topic. $\endgroup$
    – anon
    Dec 6 '17 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ I would naturally assume that a "crab-looking" creature in the desert would relate more to a scorpion than a crab. Is there a particular reason why you can't do that? $\endgroup$
    – pipe
    Dec 6 '17 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ "crustacean", "humanoid": choose one. $\endgroup$ Dec 6 '17 at 15:42
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    $\begingroup$ OK, so humans are primates, and crabs are crustaceans. The two animals are about as different as you can get. They're in different phylums. You may as well be asking about feline cephalopods or canine birds, for as much sense as it makes. $\endgroup$ Dec 6 '17 at 15:56

True crustaceans would have a hard time living in a desert environment since they have gills that need to stay moist at all times. For example look at the distribution of woodlice, which are our own version of terrestrial crustaceans. They live mainly in damp environments like under logs although there is apparently a desert species.

But you could handwave this without that much issue. Your nomads would need to trek at night and from burrow to burrow, foraging along the way or finding food underground. You'd need quite a lot of fossil water to keep the burrows or caves damp, maybe a Karst-like landscape.

As for equipment, something like a damp towel wrapped around the air-vents could give the nomads some more capacity to deal with heat and drought, I'd imagine them being in use by the hunting class or during emergencies, something high-status maybe.

It sounds like a unique and challenging environment, good luck!

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    $\begingroup$ That desert woodlouse is amazing. Going on my list of badass invertebrates along with army ants and tardigrades. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Dec 6 '17 at 11:25
  • $\begingroup$ I suspect you're overthinking the crustacean part of these desert-dwelling humanoids and that gills may not be part of their anatomy. Apart from my grousing about this, it's a good answer. Look forward to more of your participation. Thanks for the tip about desert woodlice. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Dec 6 '17 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ In that case the question would be : could a humanoid have a hard, keratin exoskeleton. Yup, sure.We have it too, on he tips of our fingers. $\endgroup$
    – Borgh
    Dec 6 '17 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ consider the coconut crab, which breaths using branchiostegal lungs not gills. It can also drown. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Oct 29 '20 at 14:19

If you mean a hot desert, a crustacean as large as a human would cook during the day as it would have no way of regulating its body temperature being cold blooded made worse by being encased in a giant exoskeleton. In order to survive it would need water perhaps a large oasis which it could climb into to avoid the temperature excesses. It would be able to emerge from the water a few hours before and after dawn and dusk and perhaps at other times for a few minutes.

Movement at night would also be problematic due to the low temperature, but slow movement might still be possible.

In order to survive on the land during the heat of the day the creature would need cooling, perhaps by painting its shell white and perhaps also in the form of a large sunshade. Large volumes of water would also be beneficial which it could spray on itself to provide evaporative cooling.

  • $\begingroup$ What if they only had hard crab like skin over parts of their body? Like a partial exoskeleton over certain extremities but soft flesh everywhere else? $\endgroup$
    – user93310
    Dec 6 '17 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ @user93310: The entire point of a skeleton is to provide strong levers which the muscles can pull; both ends of the muscle need to be anchored to the skeleton. It can be made of a solid substance, placed either inside the body (endoskeleton, like tetrapods have) or outside the body (like arthropods have) or it can be made using hydrostatic pressure in the body (hydroskeleton, like earthworms or jellyfish have). You may be confusing skeleton and armor; they are different and serve different purposes. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Dec 6 '17 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ In order to survive it would need water perhaps a large oasis which it could climb into to avoid the temperature excesses. Well, maybe not. A lot of native desert creatures burrow under ground to avoid the temperature extremes, and generally only surface around dawn and dusk when temperatures are more moderate. Of course, crustaceans do generally inhabit climates with lots of water, and have evolved with abundant water taken for granted, so it's questionable if they'd be able to survive in a dry climate, regardless of temperature. $\endgroup$ Dec 6 '17 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ @HopelessN00b true although if they were the size of a human I think they would struggle $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Dec 6 '17 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ @user93310 Why exoskeleton in the first place? In nature it's a tatical against predators but it's costly (needs replacements for growing) and is not good for sweating $\endgroup$
    – jean
    Dec 6 '17 at 16:24

If you are willing to walk a bit up the family tree from crustaceans to their phylum arthropods you can find a number of insect and arachnid cousins who have adapted to live in desert environments. I'm thinking scorpions specifically.


The biggest problem you will face is likely based on size rather than specific environments. Exoskeletal creatures are limited in how big they can be due to a number of reasons such as; limited oxygen absorption without lungs, underdeveloped circulatory systems, structural support for large creatures without bones, etc. The largest arthropod (exoskeletal) creature currently is the coconut crab which can get to a respectable 1 meter across, but only weigh about 4 kilos. You would have to overcome these structural problems first for your large humanoid crustaceans to exist at all let alone adapted to a desert environment.


As the others have said, the biggest problem about crustaceans in hot and arid environments is that their shells do not allow them to release heat. On the other hand their shell could also stop most of the heat from going in.

It is hard to say, since we do not have many dryland crustaceans and even other life forms still try to stay inactive during the day. But I think that a less heavily armored body could be plausible, if we take a scorpion as an example(it's an arachnid, but it is probably the closest thing to a crustacean that lives in deserts). A scorpion is able to deal with heat, but it is still armored. So reducing the thickness of the plates and giving them a bright colour and adding some cooling parts should do the work.


Here is what I envision: a round, nearly spherical body. This would minimize surface area to volume and so be the slowest shape to heat up. The same high volume to surface area will minimize water loss. Appendages will be very long and minimally perfused - that gives you the height and size you want without increasing volume much. Basically it will be a head with long spindly legs and arms. This converges on the body plan of the harvestmen or opiliones, a distant cousin of your crustaceans but with a pretty crustaceanish face.

http://infinitespider.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Robswatski-flicker.jpg daddy longlegs

These things live everywhere, including the desert. You could have your alien versions wear flowing Bedouin like robes. Even better, though, would be for them to go naked except for very large and light sombreros.


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