One of the world’s most underappreciated animals is the crab. They’re ancient creatures who have been around since the days of the dinosaurs, and today number an astounding 4,500 species! Some are solitary and some live in groups. What is a group of crabs called, you ask? They’re called a “cast.” And some casts can number in the thousands. Even if you’re not particularly impressed with living crabs, can we tempt you with a crab dinner? If you make it to the end of this article, we’ll reward you with ideas of some of the best places to fish for crabs, and a list of ideas for yummy seafood dishes you can make.
- Throughout the world, there are at least 4,500 species of crabs.
- Some are solitary while others hang out in groups, called “casts” that can grow into the thousands.
- These little guys help keep the ocean clean. They eat up decomposing plants and animals, at sea and on the shore.
- They are found in all the oceans of the world and are an important (and delicious) food source for wildlife and people.
- We’re going to tell you what a pom pom crab is and when you find out, you are going to tell the first person you can find. It’s that interesting!
- Crabs are great, dead or alive. Check out the suggested crabmeat dishes at the end of the article.
All About Crabs
Description and Habitat
Crabs are arthropods with an exoskeleton to protect their internal organs. They have an other-worldly, almost sinister appearance, with eyes on stalks and five pairs of legs, with the first pair modified into pincers. Crabs range in size from pea crabs just a few millimeters across to Japanese Spider Crabs which can grow to an awe-inspiring 12 feet in diameter and live for a century. They have adapted to a wide range of environments, including water that is salty or fresh, deep or shallow, warm or freezing. Some species, such as hermit crabs, have adapted to life on land as well.
Behavior and Diet
Crabs use their pincers for almost everything they do, just as humans use their hands. Crabs use pincers to communicate with others by drumming or waving them around dramatically. Males will use them as weapons when they’re fighting with rivals over females. Crab pincers are also their forks and spoons for picking up scraps of food or, in some species, for selecting a new shell to inhabit. The typical diet of a crab can include anything from small fish to shrimp, clams, mussels, seaweed, or algae. They may also eat other crabs smaller than themselves. Crabs in turn are a food source for turtles, raccoons, snakes, sea otters, foxes, shrimp, water birds, and people. In addition to playing a central role in the aquatic food chain, crabs clean up decomposing plants and animals in the ocean and on the seashore.
The exact biology of reproduction differs a bit among the thousands of crab species, but we’ll use decapod crabs as an example. Their bodies are built like folded lobsters, with an abdominal flap that is triangular-shaped in males and oval-shaped in females. When they mate, the female stores the male sperm in her body until she is ready to release her eggs. After the eggs are fertilized and released, she carries them in a spongy mass under her abdominal flap, waving water over them to keep them healthy. When they hatch, the baby crabs drift off into the ocean as plankton. They molt as they metamorphose into adults, adding segments to the posterior end of their bodies with each molt, until they become full-grown adults.
Conservation Status of Crabs
Most crab species are plentiful, and some a little too plentiful as invasive species in environments where they do not belong. However, dozens of species are listed as endangered or critically endangered. For example, due to overharvesting and habitat loss, the American horseshoe crab is listed as vulnerable, and the tri-spine horseshoe crab is considered endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
An organization working to conserve horseshoe crabs is The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. This organization collects horseshoe crab eggs along Delaware Bay and hatches them in an aquarium, releasing them at the original egg collection sites when they become old enough to feed themselves. This provides ideal conditions for the survivability of the species, as many young crabs are normally eaten by predators before they reach adulthood.
Crabs as Pets
Hermit crabs make fun and easy pets, even for small children. Something that makes them particularly interesting is that they don’t make their own shells, but inhabit discarded shells or even pieces of trash, such as bottle caps, they find, moving up to bigger ones as they grow. Children may enjoy painting and decorating shells for hermit crabs to move into. Other crab species that may make good pets are rainbow land crabs, vampire crabs, Halloween moon crabs, fiddler crabs, red claw crabs, panther crabs, thai micro crabs, and pom pom crabs.
What’s a pom pom crab? You are going to be so glad you asked. A pom pom crab is a species that holds a sea anemone in each pincher like cheerleader pom poms and uses these stinging animals to box with their enemies! You didn’t know that did you? You’re going to tell the first person you can find, aren’t you? It’s possible to keep them as pets, but they are not all that common so you may have to search around. And read the fine print. Anemones may be sold separately!
Best Places to Fish for Crabs
If you’d like to fish for (non-endangered) crabs, some of the best locations in the United States to do so are the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and Virginia, North Florida, Louisiana, California, and Washington state. Check with state wildlife authorities about the rules in the area where you plan to try your luck. Amateur fishermen may snag crabs with dip nets or with baited fishing lines.
Ways To Prepare Crab Meat
Some of the tastiest edible crabs are the snow crab, Dungeness crab, king crab, stone crab, Jonah crab, blue crab, and softshell crab. Crabs have white meat in their claws and brown meat in the main shell. Both kinds are edible, but a lot of people prefer to eat claw meat because its flavor is not so strong and fishy. If you’re cooking with a whole crab, remember to remove and discard the internal organs. They are not edible. If you’re concerned about mercury, rest assured that crab meat is lower in mercury than many other types of seafood. Pregnant women can even eat it in moderation if it is properly prepared.
Here are a few examples of dishes you can make with crab, or order the next time you go out for seafood:
- Crab Cakes – better than birthday cake, made with crab, breadcrumbs, eggs, and seasonings.
- Crab Bisque – a creamy crab soup with vegetables and seafood stock. So fancy.
- Crab Rangoon – an appetizer often paired with Chinese food, made with wontons, crab, and cream cheese. Smack your significant other’s hand when they try to steal your last one.
- Crab Linguine – a pasta of linguine noodles, garlic, herbs, and a top-secret ingredient: crabs.
- Crab Stuffed Mushrooms – stuff mushrooms with a crab-breadcrumb-cheese mixture, then stuff yourself with them.
- Crab Salad – make avocados and cucumbers taste better by covering them in crab meat and tangy dressing.
- Crab and Corn Chowder – you take your corn and potatoes and mix it with your cream and crabs and you get yourself a hearty soup for your efforts.
- Crab Fried Rice – everything’s better fried. You know it’s true. Including crab meat, vegetables, and rice.
- Crab Quesadillas – pretend you are making a regular quesadilla, then take a hard turn and throw in crab meat, cheese, and spices.
- Crab Mac and Cheese – got a kid who won’t eat anything but macaroni and cheese? Smuggle in some crab meat and tell them they like it. And if they don’t eat it, you get to!
So there you go. Not only do you know what a group of crabs is called, you know a little about how useful they are in life . . . and how delicious they can be when their life is over. It’s all part of the wonderful circle of life.
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