Tuana Phillips, a staffer with the Chesapeake Research Consortium, holds an adult blue crab during a trip to Smith Island, Md. (Photo by Will Parson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

With its bright blue claws, the blue crab is one of the most recognizable species in the Chesapeake Bay. This colorful crustacean’s strong claws allow it to crack open or pry apart the shells of clams, snails, mussels and more in its search for a meal.

But blue crabs don’t just use their claws to find food: they can also use the powerful pincers to defend themselves. Their sharp and strong grip can be quite painful, as anyone who has ever been pinched by one can confirm. And if threatened, a crab may break off a claw or leg to try to escape predators; the limb will later regrow through a process called regeneration.

Crab claws have made headlines in the past with viral images and videos showing the crustaceans wielding everything from cigarettes to knives. And though these posts may seem silly, as Jack Cover of Baltimore’s National Aquarium told The Washington Post, the crabs in these images are “absolutely distressed”: either unable to let go of what they’re holding or instinctively clamping their claws in self-defense. If you see a blue crab, it’s best to avoid putting anything—especially your fingers—between its claws.

If you see a blue crab, it’s best to avoid putting anything—especially your fingers—between its claws. If you want to pick up a blue crab, to safely handle it, pick it up from behind where its rear swimming legs connect to the shell. You can also gently step on the crab to make sure it doesn’t move as you try to pick it up. To be extra safe, wearing crabbing gloves will protect your skin from getting cut. If, despite your best efforts, a crab has pinched you, the best method to get it off is to calmly put your hand back in the water and the crab will release its grip and swim away.

Learn more about Callinectes sapidus, the blue crab.

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Comments

Tom Combs

I’ve also lived on the Chesapeake bay for 71 years.The tail about a man eating crab shells, I’m sorry but Evan I am not that gullible

Ed Adams

I have lived around the Chesapeake bay all my life, now 69 yrs. Early on, I and all our generations since have eaten or caught blue crabs. Over the years i have seen all types of bites and experienced quite a few. On one occasion, one of the group, who had too much to drink decided to put his hand into a basket half full of crabs. Now without a sound he pulls his hand out with a half dozen crabs attached. We were laughing so hard we didn't realize how bloody his hand was. We tried to get the crabs off but we would have pulled the skin off trying. We started banging the crabs with a knife. A couple dropped off, finally, we put his hand down on the sand to get the rest off. As soon as the crabs realized they could get away, they just let go. Needless to say, later that day they all tasted great. A few years later I actually heard about a man from a tanker, not knowing how to pick nor eat a crab, ate 6 of the whole crab, nothing but some seasoning left on the table. Balto. Harbor was close, the man was a foreigner who came off a tanker docked at the harbor. It's not funny enough he ate the crabs but how difficult was it to discharge them.

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