Ghost crabs are found in tropical and subtropical shores all across the world, making their home amongst sandy shores. Catching ghost crabs has become a growing hobby for families wanting a fun day out with the kids. Generally this is all they are used for.
Ghost crabs are edible but they don’t supply as much meat as the usual blue crab and tend to only be a food source for birds or raccoons, however they are not harmful for human consumption.
Ghost Crabs Background
Ghost crabs are semi terrestrial, meaning they live partially but not wholly on land. Their lifestyle also involves time in the water. This being said, they do prefer to spend most of their time burrowed beneath the sand, only heading to the sea when they need to dampen their gills. The time that ghost crabs can spend underwater is limited, otherwise they will drown. They come from the subfamily Ocypodinae, characterised by one claw being bigger than the other, thick (swollen) eyestalks and a box style body.
Their diet consists of smaller animals, such as insects, clams or eggs of hatchlings or turtles. Predators for this crab can include a wide variety of fish, sharks, eels, jellyfish and air or land species.
Ghost crabs have the second name ‘sand crabs’, nonetheless there is also a whole bunch of other crab species falling under this title, so it isn’t commonly said. They make their homes underneath the intertidal area of the sand, which is under the water at high tides and above the water at low tide. This gives them an increased amount of chances to get moisture. They can dig as far as 4 or 5 feet deep, and spend the hottest part of their day and the coldest parts of winter remaining underground.
Since they are nocturnal, they tend to come out at night when they are more protected from predators. They are quick, and run at the first sight of danger. Generally they would dart back into their burrow to escape or run into the sea to hide.
Fascinatingly, this crab has a few survival techniques to ensure it’s safety from unwanted guests. Firsty, it will change what legs it uses depending on what speed it wants to go. The faster it goes, the less legs it will use. Only all four sets of legs are used during a walk pace. Secondly, the ghost crab can change colour. It was named predominantly after its pale appearance, however its shade will differ between its surrounds and time of day, helping the crustation blend in.
Can You Eat Ghost Crabs?
Technically, yes, you can eat ghost crabs, although you may not really want to. These crabs are rather small and do not contain a large amount of meat. As stated earlier, they typically are only a source of food for birds or raccoons.
With this being said, ghost crabs are not poisonous for humans and make for safe eating. If you are catching them yourself, you must ensure they are cooked in boiling water for at least 20 minutes to kill any parasites that might be lingering. As like any other form of crab, you are required to de-shell them prior to consumption.
Once you have removed the outer layer, include gills and any innards that do not appear to be white along with this. Separate the limbs from the body, and use nutcrackers to reach the meat from the claws. Then, cut the crab in half to pick out the remainders of the flesh. Add butter to improve the quality.
Due to the lack of subsistence they don’t make for a very hearty meal. An alternative cooking option would be a broth or soup, perhaps even suitable for salads or larger platters of mixed seafood. Despite their lack of popularity for edibility, they do actually give a nice flavour.
How to Catch Ghost Crabs
Really all that you need in order to catch a ghost crab is a torch, a bucket and a shore line. The activity of these crabs is much higher during the night, or evening when the sky gets darker, so this would be your best chance of finding something. If you find yourself an overcast or stormy day, you could try your luck at these times as well.
It may take some time to find them, but keep your torch scanning across the beach and eventually you should see them scampering along the sand, perhaps in the direction of the water. They are very shy creatures, and normally will freeze up as soon as the light hits them, much alike the expression ‘a deer caught in headlights’. This is your opportunity.
If you are using a net, carefully scoop them up. Approach slowly and then put them into your bucket. If you are using your hands, gloves would be recommended. A nip from a ghost crab shouldn’t hurt too much, though this being said poking and prodding should be avoided, not only for your safety but for the wellbeing of the crab.
If you are wanting to get some good pictures of the crustastion, the perfect shots would be done whilst shining the light on it, before capture.
Here are some tips to help you along your way;
Wear dark clothing – make yourself less visible, and stay quiet as to not frighten the ghost crabs away
Choose the best time of year – May to September is the peak season for ghost crabs, as they will hibernate under the sand during the colder months of winter
Research your beaches – as you would imagine, your odds will improve the more crabs there are. Costa Rica, Hawaii and the Atlantic coast of USA show good populations
Consider making a trap – Traps can be made out of bottles or other household items. This can be easily searched online and put together without much trouble. The aim would be to leave it on the beach overnight, and check again in the morning, when hopefully you’ve caught something
Please bear in mind to respect the crab whilst you are catching them, value their safety and their life. Many ghost crabs come into trouble at the hands of beach goers, who mistake their burrows for merely a hole. It is often the case that burrows collapse under the tread of feet whilst the crabs are still inside.
If you are catching them for food, the kindest way to kill them is directly inside the middle of its under body using a sharp blade. This will instantly kill it in the most painless way possible. Taking them to boil after killing them can actually do benefits for the flavour, as when crabs are boiled alive they shed their limbs, allowing water into the flesh and lessening the taste. If your aim is not to kill and eat, release them again near to where you found them. The ideal spot would be not too far away from the waves.
In conclusion, whilst the activity is named ghost crab hunting, it can be more of a chase. Be ready to get quick on your feet if they decide to run, and keep your eyes out. Whilst at standstill, they are not very visible, and whilst on the move they are not easy to keep up with.