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King Crab

Spiny King CrabA spiny king crab (Paralithodes californiensis) Paralithodes californiensis (king crab) at the Birch Aquarium in San DiegoPhoto of Paralithodes californiensis (king crab) at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego
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King Crab Facts

Kingdom:
Five groups that classify all living things
Animalia
Phylum:
A group of animals within the animal kingdom
Arthropoda
Class:
A group of animals within a pylum
Crustacea
Order:
A group of animals within a class
Decapoda
Family:
A group of animals within an order
Lithodidae
Genus:
A group of animals within a family
Lopholithodes
Scientific Name:
The name of the animal in science
Lopholithodes Mandtii
Type:
The animal group that the species belongs to
Crustacean
Diet:
What kind of foods the animal eats
Carnivore
Size:
How long (L) or tall (H) the animal is
0.6-1.8m (1.9-5.9ft)
Weight:
The measurement of how heavy the animal is
2-8kg (4.4-18lbs)
Top Speed:
The fastest recorded speed of the animal
11km/h (7mph)
Lifespan:
How long the animal lives for
15-30 years
Lifestyle:
Whether the animal is solitary or sociable
Solitary
Conservation Status:
The likelihood of the animal becoming extinct
Threatened
Colour:
The colour of the animal's coat or markings
Blue, Red, Orange
Skin Type:
The protective layer of the animal
Shell
Favourite Food:
The preferred food of this animal
Molluscs
Habitat:
The specific area where the animal lives
Cold coastal waters and continental shelves
Average Litter Size:
The average number of babies born at once
7
Main Prey:
The food that the animal gains energy from
Molluscs, Fish, Sea Urchin
Predators:
Other animals that hunt and eat the animal
Human, Larger Fish, Octopus
Special Features:
Characteristics unique to this animal
Large body and legs with thick, armoured shell

King Crab Location

Map of King Crab Locations

King Crab

The king crab is one of the most enormous crab species known to man. It can weigh more than 11 pounds, which is heavier than a house cat, and have a total leg span of over 5 feet, which means that it can be as long as a human is tall.

King crabs are also sometimes referred to as Alaskan king crabs, red king crabs or Japanese crabs. They can only grow larger through a process called molting in which they shed their old shells and grow newer, larger ones.

In general, king crabs can be found along the Alaskan coast, in the Bering Sea and in the shallow waters surrounding the coast of Japan. They are the most popular crab to eat, and their meat is considered a delicacy in most parts of the world.
 

3 King Crab Facts

  • The heaviest king crab ever found weighed 28 pounds. This is roughly the same weight as a miniature poodle or a corgi!
  • King crabs are closely related to hermit crabs, and they share the trait of having two differently sized claws. The right claw is typically larger and used to crush things, and the left claw is smaller and shaped to make tearing food apart more convenient.
  • King crabs cannot swim. They move around by walking along the ocean floor.

 

King Crab Scientific Name

The red king crab's scientific name is Paralithodes camtschaticus. In addition to being called red king crab or Alaskan king crab, it may also be referred to as Kamchatka crab or Japanese crab.

"Paralithodes" comes from the Ancient Greek prefix "para," which means "beside," "near" or "closely resembling," and the Greek word "lithodes," which means "stone-like." This means that king crabs are a part of a group of animals who all have rigid, hard, "stone-like" shells.
 

King Crab Appearance and Behavior

Despite its name, the red king crab is typically not red. Live ones tend to have a more orange or burgundy hue. Some can even be a brownish-blue color. The name actually comes from the fact that they turn bright red when cooked.

Like most crab species, king crabs are covered in a thick and heavy shell, which is usually called a carapace. In addition, their entire bodies are covered in large, sharp spines for additional protection.

Outside of mating season, king crabs are solitary creatures. However, they have been known to group together in the face of large predators. They will stack on top of each other in what is known as a "pod" in order to appear larger and more menacing. These pods can be dozens of feet high and contain stacks of hundreds of crabs.

Male king crabs usually grow to be larger than females, and they can be easily identified by their differing body shapes. Female king crabs have a wide, fan-shaped abdomen, and males have a narrow, triangle-shaped abdomen.

King crabs have five pairs of legs. The first pair of legs actually functions more like arms, and each has a sharp pincer attached to the end. The right claw is larger and thicker, and it is designed for crushing. The left claw is smaller, and it is designed to tear apart food.

The fifth set of legs is also different from the rest. These legs are smaller and specialized to aid the crabs in egg fertilization during mating and cleaning fertilized eggs after they have been laid.

 

King Crab Habitat

Most species of king crabs prefer to live in relatively shallow and muddy coastal waters that are less than 200 feet deep. They can live in waters that are as deep as 650 feet, however, so they are versatile.

Adult king crabs generally prefer cold water that is between 2 to 4 degrees Celsius or 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
 

King Crab Diet

King crabs are carnivores, and they are known for eating smaller ocean creatures such as worms, snails, mussels, barnacles, sea urchins, clams and fish. They will even eat smaller crab species.

They are also considered opportunistic feeders, which means that they are not picky eaters. They will eat whichever invertebrates are easiest to find and crush with their pincers in the nearby surroundings.
 

King Crab Predators and Threats

The natural predators of king crabs include large fish like cod, halibut and other similar species as well as skates and sculpins. They are also in danger from octopuses and even other king crabs.

The largest king crabs have very few natural predators due to their sheer size and the fact that they are only vulnerable right after molting.

Human harvesting of king crabs is another threat to wild populations. However, a number of man-made fisheries have been established, and strict harvesting regulations are in place, so they are not considered to be endangered.
 

King Crab Reproduction, Babies and Lifespan

In the wild, king crabs can live up to 30 years. Most do not live this long, but it is normal for a king crab to live at least 20 years when there is minimal threat of human harvesting.

King crabs reach sexual maturity after about five years, and their reproduction cycle begins in the spring.

In mid-spring, usually around May, mature female king crabs will migrate to warmer, shallower waters to ensure that they can safely spawn their eggs. They can spawn anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000 eggs at once.

Male king crabs will join the females later in the season to fertilize the eggs, and females will then carry these eggs in their abdominal flaps for up to 12 months before they hatch. After hatching, king crab larvae resemble tiny shrimp. These larvae are called zoea, and unlike their adult counterparts, they are able to swim. They do not spend any time with the mother crab.

King crab larvae will molt up to five times in the first few months of their lives, and they then metamorphose into what is called a "glaucothoe." This is a sort of in-between stage of growth for king crabs, which is similar to how many insects have a juvenile stage that essentially looks like a less-developed adult version of the creature.

These juvenile king crabs settle onto the ocean floor when they reach this stage of growth, and as they continue to grow, they will remain on the ocean floor and begin to move around and behave like adult king crabs. During this phase, they will continue to molt regularly as they grow larger, and they also lose their ability to swim.
 

King Crab Population

King crab populations are closely monitored to avoid overfishing. Because king crab population fluctuations are cyclical, fisheries maintain guidelines regarding how and when these crabs can be harvested to maximize their chances of reproducing and keeping population numbers high.

As an example, fisheries follow the "three S" rule: size, sex and season. Only male crabs may be harvested, and they must be above a certain size threshold. Additionally, they are only allowed to be harvested outside of the mating and molting season. This helps to ensure that the species is able to replenish itself.

Populations in the Barents Sea are estimated to be around 20 million, and the numbers in the Bering Sea are slightly lower.
 

King Crab FAQ

Are king crabs carnivores, herbivores or omnivores?

King crabs are opportunistic carnivores. This means that they eat meat, but they are not picky about where the meat comes from. They will eat almost any invertebrates that are smaller than they are, and they will even eat smaller king crabs if they can crush them with their pincers.
 

Why is king crab so expensive?

Ultimately, the price of king crab is dictated by supply and demand. Because there is only a limited amount of king crab that can be harvested each year, the demand often exceeds the supply. This is also why king crab prices can fluctuate so much as well.

During seasons when there is an abundance of crab to be harvested, prices may drop somewhat. In seasons where populations are lower and regulations are tighter, prices often rise because the supply is even more limited.
 

How big does a king crab get?

In general, king crabs are one of the largest crab species. The males grow larger than the females, and it is common for them to be as heavy as 11 pounds and to have a leg span as long as 5 or 6 feet.

To put that in perspective, the average domestic cat weighs about 11 pounds, and the average height for an American female is 5 feet 4 inches.

The largest king crab on record weighed in at an astounding 28 pounds, which is as heavy as a small, stocky dog such as a dachshund or corgi.
 

Are king crabs dangerous?

Despite their size and their spiny shells, king crabs are not particularly aggressive or dangerous to humans. The profession of king crab fishing is dangerous for other reasons.
 

Why is king crab fishing so dangerous?

A number of factors all work together to make Alaskan crab fishing one of the most dangerous occupations.

First, it's important to remember how heavy king crabs are. Fishermen must haul up huge nets or cages that are soaking wet and full of large, live crabs. These nets or pots can weigh hundreds of pounds each, and everything is wet and slippery.

In addition, the fishing waters are often rough, unpredictable and freezing cold. Because the fishing season occurs during the coldest part of the year, there is also the potential for strong, icy winds and dangerous winter storms to make the process even more treacherous.

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First Published: 10th November 2008, Last Updated: 18th March 2020

Sources:
1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 10 Nov 2008]
2. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2011]
3. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 10 Nov 2008]
4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species [Accessed at: 01 Jan 2009]
5. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals [Accessed at: 10 Nov 2008]