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What is a Ghost Crab?

By Steve R.
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A ghost crab is a crustacean of the genus Ocypode that dwells on sandy shores in tropical and subtropical regions. The creature is aptly named, as its pale color allows the crab to blend into the sand. The ghost crab, which is usually about 3 inches (about 7.5 centimeters) wide, is known for its distinctive stalked eyes, which allow it to see in any direction. Males can often be identified by horns attached to the end of their eyes. The crab is sometimes enjoyed as a delicacy, and can be eaten raw or broiled.

Possessing a rectangular shaped shell, the crab has 10 jointed legs and is capable of moving forward, sideways, and backward. The fast-moving ghost crab is also able travel about at speeds up to 10 miles (about 16 kilometers) per hour. The creature's watertight external skeleton prevents it from drying out, and also provides support to organs and muscles.

As the crab grows, eventually it will lose or molt its external skeleton. When the external skeleton is ready to come off, a slightly larger new one is ready to take its place. After the external skeleton comes off, it takes a bit for the new one to harden and so the crab is vulnerable during that time.

The ghost crab lives alone in burrows by the water. The burrows may extend approximately 4 feet (about 1.2 meters) deep, which helps keep the creature damp and cool during the day. A male crab typically dwells in a burrow that is identifiable by the neat pile of sand next to the entrance. Females and young crabs are not as neat, and reside in a burrow that has sand scattered in all directions around it. Females are able to find a mate by identifying a male's residence.

The crustaceans are able to communicate with each other through sounds. A ghost crab possesses a special mechanism on its right claw, called a stridulating organ. When the crustacean strokes the stridulating organ against a point at the bottom of its leg, it produces a squeaky noise. This noise may serve as a warning to other crabs to avoid entering a burrow, or may also be used by males to attract females.

At night, the ghost crab sometimes will dig and repair its burrow, and also look for food. Ghost crabs are scavengers, and will comb the beach seeking any plants or animals that washed ashore. The diet of the crab includes snails, clams, baby sea turtles, and lizards.

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