Jonah Crab

Cancer borealis

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region / Creative Commons – License / Original

It has delicious meat with an affordable price


Jonah Crab Scientific Classification

Scientific Name
Cancer borealis

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Jonah Crab Locations

Jonah Crab Locations

Jonah Crab Facts

Mussels (especially blue mussels), arthropods, snails, and certain species of algae
Group Behavior
  • Solitary
Fun Fact
It has delicious meat with an affordable price
Estimated Population Size
Biggest Threat
Most Distinctive Feature
Light spots and black-tipped claws
Distinctive Feature
Spotted color
Other Name(s)
White leggers
Gestation Period
9-14 days
Rock, clay, sand, mud
Seagulls, otters, alligators, sharks, rays, and bony fish, and humans
Common Name
Jonah crab
Number Of Species

Jonah Crab Physical Characteristics

Skin Type
1-5 years

View all of the Jonah Crab images!

Share on:

The Jonah crab is a marine crab species that lives in the waters off the eastern coast of North America.

It is valued for its sweet and flavorful meat and its claws and legs, which have a more affordable price than other types of crabs. It has a rough-edged carapace with yellow or light spots and dark-tipped claws. This Northwest Atlantic crab is closely related to the European brown crab in the Western Atlantic.

5 Jonah Crab Facts

  • Jonah crab recipes call for steaming or boiling, after which the meat is removed from the body, claws, and legs.
  • Because Jonah crab meat has a lower price, it is often mixed with Dungness crab or blue crab meat.
  • The Atlantic crab species is related to the Dungness crab of the Pacific.
  • Its geographic range is from Newfoundland, Canada to Florida.
  • The name “Jonah” refers to the character Jonah in the Bible, who was swallowed by a whale, and refers to bad luck.

Jonah Crab Classification and Scientific Name

The Jonah crab’s scientific name is Cancer borealis. It’s also called a white legger. It belongs to the genus of cancer (meaning “crab” in Latin) or coastal crabs along with the Atlantic rock crabs (Cancer irroratus). The class Malacostraca contains the most out of the six classes of crustaceans, including crabs, lobsters, crayfish, shrimp, krill, prawns, and woodlice. The order Decapoda (decapods) contains shrimp, lobsters, crayfish, and prawns, while the family Cancridae is a family of crabs with six existing genera. The genus Cancer of cancer or marine/coastal crabs contains eight existing species, including the red rock crab and the European edible (brown) crab. “Cancer” means “crab” in Latin and “Borealis” means “north.” The name “Jonah” refers to the character Jonah in the Bible, who was swallowed by a whale and refers to bad luck. In fishermen’s case, the presence of Jonah crabs means that there are no lobsters in the net because the Jonah crabs eat the lobster bait.

Jonah Crab Appearance

Jonah crabs are first measured by their carapace, which indicates their weight. Males reach a width of 222mm for the carapace, while females reach no more than 150mm. The typical weight for their carapace size is as follows: A Jonah crab with a carapace measuring 5 inches width weighs 12-14oz, 5.5 inches weighs 15-16oz, and 5.75 inches weighs 18-19oz.

Jonah Crab Distribution, Population, and Habitat

The Jonah crab’s geographic range is from Newfoundland, Canada to Florida. Its main locations for landings are Prince Edward Island, the Gulf of Maine, and Rhode Island, with habitats being coasts with rock, clay, sand, and mud. It lives in depths of up to 750m but usually 50-300m, and has a preferred average temperature of 59.7 °F.

Jonah Crab Predators and Prey

The Jonah crab’s diet is carnivorous. Its prey is smaller animals, especially crustaceans and gastropods. They are scavengers when necessary and so sometimes also eat carrion.

What do Jonah crabs eat?

Mussels (especially blue mussels), arthropods, snails, and certain species of algae, which are neither plants nor animals.

What eats Jonah crabs?

Seafood-eating birds of prey, such as seagulls, eat Jonah crabs. So do otters, alligators, sharks, rays, and bony fish. Humans also eat them.

Jonah Crab Reproduction and Lifespan

When the carapace reaches the width of 128mm for male Jonah crabs and 89 mm for females, they can reproduce. They reproduce by spawning and do so between late winter and early spring. A female crab lays one egg clutch per year or up to five broods per lifetime. Each clutch carries between 160,000-1,000,000 eggs. She lays her eggs in soft substrates for warmth and safety. The gestation period is 9-14 days. Female Jonah crabs move closer to the shore during the late spring and summer and then go back offshore in the fall and winter.

There is no information about the specific lifespan of the Jonah crab. However, crabs in captivity live four to five years, and in the wild live 1 to 5 years.

Jonah Crab in Fishing and Cooking

Jonah crab can be used in any recipe that calls for crab meat. The recipes call for steaming or boiling the crabs, then removing the meat from the claws and legs. The price is more affordable than Dungness, stone, or blue crab. It is sweet with a darker and heavier texture than Dungness crab, flaky, but firm like Florida stone crab when cooked right.

This particular crab is popular in New England, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, and is managed by individual states. Typical recipes for Jonah crab include:

Nutrition-wise, the Jonah crab is a great source of protein and has trace amounts of iron and calcium. It is high in calories and fat.

Jonah crab vs. stone crab

Like the snow crab, the Jonah crab’s meat has a fine texture. The creature is a cousin to the stone crab along with the Dungeness crab. The claws have more meat because they are bigger.

Jonah Crab Population

Not enough research studies have been conducted on Jonah crabs to have any information on their population.

View all 36 animals that start with J

Share on:
About the Author

Growing up in rural New England on a small scale farm gave me a lifelong passion for animals. I love learning about new wild animal species, habitats, animal evolutions, dogs, cats, and more. I've always been surrounded by pets and believe the best dog and best cat products are important to keeping our animals happy and healthy. It's my mission to help you learn more about wild animals, and how to care for your pets better with carefully reviewed products.

Jonah Crab FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How do you catch Jonah crabs?

You can use a lobster trap, a couple of clams, or a tog head. Throw it 15 feet deep to catch the crabs.

Are Jonah crabs good to eat?

Yes, they’re a great source of protein and have a sweet flavor with a fine, firm texture.

What is the difference between Jonah crab and snow crab?

The snow crab belongs to the genus Chionoecetes and the Jonah crab to Cancer.

What kind of crab is Jonah crab?

It’s a cancer or coastal/marine crab, meaning it lives in saltwater.

Why is it called Jonah crab?

The name “Jonah” refers to bad luck from the Biblical character Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale. For fishermen, Jonah crabs eat lobster bait and get caught along with lobsters.

Where are Jonah crabs found?

They are found in sand, clay, rocks, or mud along the eastern coast of North America.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.