Ghost Crab and Ghost Crab Hunting

Venture to the beach as night falls for a chance to spot a ghost crab. With lightning-like reflexes, these sand-colored crabs dart across the beach and into the ocean in mere seconds. Ghost crab hunting is a favorite among beachgoers to the Atlantic coast as capturing these speedy crabs proves to be a hilarious challenge.

Guide To Ghost Crab Hunting

What Is A Ghost Crab

The Atlantic ghost crab is small iridescent species of crab that is found along the Atlantic coast. It has been found as far north as Block Island, RI to Santa Catarina, Brazil.  There are many different ghost crabs around the world; this article will focus on the Atlantic ghost crab.

Ghost Crab HuntingThis sand-colored crustacean is a master of camouflage as they can change color to match their surroundings. Common on coastal beaches, they dig burrows in the sand, seeking shelter from the sun, and “hibernate” during the winter. Burrows can be up to four feet deep and are often found hundreds of feet from the water’s edge. They can even be closed up with sand to keep the crabs cool in the heat. Younger ghost crabs burrow close to the sea, while older ghost crabs burrow higher up on the beach.

Beaches that experience a high volume of visitors are less likely to see ghost crabs as many are crushed from foot and vehicle traffic while in their burrows. In addition, pick up litter found on the beach. Litter washed from streets or left directly on the beach can trap and kill the crabs.

We learned all about these amazing creatures during our visit to Garden City, South Carolina.

Ghost Crab Size

Packing List For Ghost CrabbingGhost Crabs usually grow between 2-3 inches in diameter. These crabs have four pairs of walking legs and one pair of white claws, and their large, club-shaped eyestalks can rotate 360 degrees.

What Do Ghost Crabs Eat

Ghost crabs are omnivorous, feeding on insects, filter-feeders (like clams and mole crabs), and the eggs and hatchlings of loggerhead turtles. They will also scavenge for vegetation and detritus.

Fun Ghost Crab Facts

  • The Ghost Crab scientific name, Ocypode, means “fast feet,” as they’re often seen darting sideways at up to 10 miles per hour.
  • Ghost Crabs make a unique bubbling sound by hitting their claws on the ground and rubbing their legs together.
  • While the Ghost Crab breathes oxygen, they must also maintain plenty of moisture in their gills. They do this by acquiring water at the edge of the gulf or getting moisture from damp sand.

Can You Eat A Ghost Crab?

No. Unless you are raccoon, bird, or seagull, it isn’t recommended.

Ghost Crab Hunting

What You Will Find On The Beach At NightNow that you know all about the Ghost Crab, it is time to catch one, or try to! Venture to the beach once it gets dark. Come prepared with a flashlight, net, and a bucket. While there may be brave souls who will attempt to pick the crabs up with their bare hands, I recommend against this because they will pinch!

Walking closer to the water always yielded the most ghost crab sightings before they scamper away into the sea or back into their “crab holes,” as my daughter would say.  Larger crabs can found further from the water while smaller ones hang closer to the water’s edge.  Once the light hits the crabs, they will often freeze for a few seconds before moving. Just like a deer in headlights.

We found that tossing a little sand on them would relax them just long enough to scoop them up in our nets. Try to approach the crabs from behind if possible so, they don’t scurry away.

Consider using a sea turtle safe light while on the beach or a flashlight with a red light. Headlamps are another excellent tool for ghost crab hunting as it allows for two free hands to maneuver the net. After carefully scooping up the crab, place it in the bucket. It is fun to see how many each person can get before setting them free. However, the true belly-laughs come from dumping the bucket of crabs at the end and watching fancy footwork paired with loud squeals of excitement and horror. It’s hilarious when a crab darts over someone toes!

Since Ghost Crabs are not for eating, it is more like Ghost Crab catching verse Ghost Crab hunting. Be sure to release all your Ghost Crab friends not long after you capture them.

Tips For Ghost Crab Hunting

  • Ghost Crab hunting tips The best areas of the beach to catch ghost crabs are areas that are not overly crowded. Walk for a little bit one way or another to have the best chance at capturing these swift crustaceans.
  • Make it an educational event in addition to a fun activity. Teach children about the wildlife they encounter during a visit to the beach so they know what to expect and have a better appreciation of the world around them.
  • Use a five-gallon bucket to collect your crabs if possible. Crabs are master escape artists and can easily get out of small sand buckets. Especially the larger crabs.
  • The best time for ghost crabbing is between May and September.
  • Wear darker colored clothes as camouflage. Ghost crabs are always on high alert for predators.
  • Please be careful with the crabs and free them quickly so they can get back to their hunt for food and remoisten their gills to keep breathing.

Additional Resources

What To Pack: Flashlight or headlamp, a net, a large bucket, and a little bit of courage.

Where To Stay: We enjoy staying at a variety of accommodations along the beach. That’s why we use Booking.com to find the ideal place to stay. Whether it is a villa on the beach or budget-friendly hotel we always seem to snag the best deal here.

Road Trip Tips:  Are you hitting the open road to arrive at the beach? Check out our Tips for Road Tripping with Toddlers and why Road Trip Goodie Bags might be your new road trip tradition.

Staying at a hotel with a toddler? Be sure to check out our Hotel Tips For Toddlers.

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