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Atlantic Ghost Crab

Ocypode quadrata

The ghost crab is said to get its common name from its ability to disappear so quickly from sight. (Terry K. Ross/Flickr)
The ghost crab is said to get its common name from its ability to disappear so quickly from sight. (Terry K. Ross/Flickr)

Also known as the sand crab, the Atlantic ghost crab is a sand-colored crustacean with a distinct pair of white claws. Ghost crabs are active on coastal beaches in the Chesapeake Bay region from spring through autumn.

Appearance:

  • Four pairs of walking legs and one pair of white claws
  • Large club-shaped eyestalks that can rotate 360 degrees
  • Square-shaped, semi-translucent carapace (shell) can measure up to three inches; males are generally larger than females
  • Young ghost crabs are much darker than adults, with carapaces colored a mottled gray and brown
  • Able to change their color to match their surroundings, making them less vulnerable to predators 

Habitat:

  • Common on coastal beaches
  • Ghost crabs dig burrows in the sand, where they seek shelter from the sun (sometimes plugging the burrow entrance with sand to keep out the heat) 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. Younger ghost crabs burrow close to the water, while older ghost crabs burrow higher up on the beach 
  • More terrestrial than any other crab in the Chesapeake Bay, ghost crabs enter the water only to moisten their gills and developing eggs. Rather than enter the water completely, ghost crabs prefer to brace themselves on the sand and allow incoming waves to wash over their bodies 

Range:

  • Found on beaches of the lower Chesapeake Bay, particularly those close to the ocean 
  • Range extends as far north as Rhode Island and as far south as Brazil 

Feeding:

  • Omnivorous, feeding on insects, filter-feeders (like clams and mole crabs) and the eggs and hatchlings of loggerhead turtles
  • Scavenge for vegetation and detritus 

Predators:

  • Common predators include raccoons, shorebirds and gulls
  • Fend off predators by darting into their burrows or flattening their bodies just under the surface of the sand 

Reproduction and Life Cycle:

  • Mating can occur throughout the year, and often takes place in or near the burrow of a male 
  • While mating, males release a fluid with their sperm that will harden and prevent rival sperm from reaching the female's ova 
  • Females carry developing eggs under their bodies before releasing them into the water, where larvae will develop 
  • Life span of three years 

Other Facts:

  • The Latin name Ocypoda means "swift-footed"
  • Ghost crabs do not have to return to the water to wet their gills, instead able to use fine hairs located on the base of their legs to wick up water from damp sand
  • Ghost crabs can create three sounds: striking the ground with their claws, rubbing together their legs or making a bubbling sound 

Sources and Additional Information:


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