Mid-water plankton collections commonly include bizarre and mysterious developmental stages that differ conspicuously from their adult counterparts in morphology and habitat. Unaware of the existence of planktonic larval stages, early zoologists often misidentified these unique morphologies as independent adult lineages. Many such mistakes have since been corrected by collecting larvae, raising them in the lab, and identifying the adult forms. However, challenges arise when the larva is remarkably rare in nature and relatively inaccessible due to its changing habitats over the course of ontogeny. The mid-water marine species Cerataspis monstrosa (Gray 1828) is an armored crustacean larva whose adult identity has remained a mystery for over 180 years. Our phylogenetic analyses, based in part on recent collections from the Gulf of Mexico, provide definitive evidence that the rare, yet broadly distributed larva, C. monstrosa, is an early developmental stage of the globally distributed deepwater aristeid shrimp, Plesiopenaeus armatus. Divergence estimates and phylogenetic relationships across five genes confirm the larva and adult are the same species. Our work demonstrates the diagnostic power of molecular systematics in instances where larval rearing seldom succeeds and morphology and habitat are not indicative of identity. Larval–adult linkages not only aid in our understanding of biodiversity, they provide insights into the life history, distribution, and ecology of an organism.