Ghost crabs, also known as sand crabs or sand bubbler crabs, are edible, but they don’t supply as much meat as other crab species. They tend only to be a source of food for sea birds or raccoons; however, they may be consumed safely.
What Is a Ghost Crab?
Ghost crabs are crustaceans belonging to the family Ocypodidae. They are quite smaller in size compared to other crab species. On average, they measure about 2-3 inches.
Ghost crabs are found in coastal areas around the world, including tropical and subtropical regions. They inhabit sandy beaches, mudflats, and intertidal zones, where they can find suitable conditions for survival.
These small crabs have a unique appearance that helps them hide on the sandy shores. They have a semi-translucent exoskeleton and their coloration can vary from pale yellow to gray or brown; this color allows them to blend in with the sand.
They are most active during the night. They spend their days burrowing in the sand and emerge at night to scavenge for food. However, they can also be found during low tide, especially in areas where the tide exposes portions of the beach.
They are very agile and fast, which allows them to swiftly navigate the beach and evade potential predators. They also actively sift through the sand, consuming microorganisms and detritus.
Species of Ghost Crabs
Here are a few common ghost crab species:
- Ocypode ceratophthalma: This is one of the most widespread species found on the Atlantic coast and on the coastal beaches of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.
- Ocypode gaudichaudii: Also known as the horn-eyed ghost crab, this species is found in the Indo-Pacific and Eastern Pacific regions. It has distinct eyestalks with horn-like projections.
- Ocypode quadrata: Found along the eastern coast of the U.S., from Massachusetts to Brazil, this species is commonly known as the Atlantic ghost crab.
- Ocypode ryderi: This species is native to the western coast of the Americas, from Mexico to Peru. It is commonly known as the Pacific ghost crab or ryder’s ghost crab.
Can You Eat Ghost Crabs?
Technically you can eat ghost crabs, although you may not want to. These crabs are relatively small and do not contain a lot of crab meat.
Moreover, ghost crabs are often found in sandy beach environments that may be exposed to various contaminants and pollutants. Eating ghost crabs sourced from these areas can be risky due to environmental contamination.
If you are interested in consuming these small scavengers, other types of crabs are more palatable for their larger size, meat content, and culinary value, such as blue crabs, Dungeness crabs, snow crabs, and king crabs.
What Do Ghost Crabs Taste Like?
People who have tried ghost crabs describe their meat as bitter, bland and lacking distinct flavor. These tiny crabs are not considered as flavorful or succulent as other crab species that are commonly consumed for their taste.
How to Catch a Ghost Crab?
Ghost crabs are usually active at night, so head to a sandy beach or shoreline during the evening or early morning hours for ghost crab hunting.
Once you locate one, approach it slowly and try to chase it down. Keep in mind that ghost crabs are fast and agile, so be prepared for quick movements.
A small handheld net with fine mesh can be helpful. Slowly lower the net over the crab, making sure to keep the opening of the net on the sand. Once the crab is inside the net, gently lift it off the ground and secure the opening to prevent the crab from escaping.
If you want to catch ghost crabs during the day, look for signs of fresh sand excavated from their burrows. Use a small shovel or your hands to dig around the entrance of the burrow. Be patient and gentle, as the crab might retreat deeper into its burrow. Once you spot the crab, carefully reach in and grab it from behind, being cautious of its pincers.
Remember, when catching ghost crabs, it’s important to handle them gently and carefully. I recommend releasing them back into their natural habitat once you have had fun catching one.
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How Do You Cook Ghost Crabs?
Cooking ghost crabs, while possible, is not a common practice since they don’t contain a lot of meat. However, if you still want to cook ghost crabs, you can do so by following the below tips.
Rinse the crabs and remove the triangular-shaped flap on the crab’s underside (known as the apron), and discard it.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Carefully place the cleaned ghost crabs into the boiling water and let them cook for 8-10 minutes or until the shells turn bright orange.
Once the crabs are cooked, place them in a bowl of ice water to cool down quickly. Once cooled, use a crab cracker or a mallet to crack the shells and extract the meat. Discard the shells and any inedible parts.
Ghost crab meat is delicate and can be used in various recipes that call for crab meat. You can sauté the meat with butter and garlic, add it to soups or stews, or incorporate it into crab cakes or stuffing.
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