Recently while on a trip along the St. Joseph Peninsula I stumbled into one of my very favorite of shoreline critters – the ghost crab. Even though they are very common all over Florida’s sandy coasts, the ghost crab is the master of camouflage and quite often never seen at all.
Ghost crabs make up the genus Ocypode, of which there are 28 species found around the world. These amazing golf ball-sized crustaceans have an opaque/translucent exoskeleton (shell) that causes the crab to appear almost invisible when over white sand. Not only are they nearly invisible when not moving, they are shockingly fast – moving at up to ten miles per hour – and can change direction instantly. Two black eyes mounted above the carapace enable this shore dweller both perfect eyesight and a 360° field of vision. These traits alone would account for why I rarely see them, even when I see their burrows and tracks frequently along quiet sandy beaches.
Florida’s ghost crab – the Atlantic ghost crab (Ocypode quadrata) is frequently seen along white sandy beaches, usually in association with sea oats, where the burrows can be found where the sea oats meet the open beach, well above the high-tide mark. This one was spotted near the water’s edge early in the morning, where it was easy to get a few clear photographs before it scurried back to its burrow. Keep your eyes open next time you are at the beach…. you may not see the crab, but you might see hundreds of little crab tracks that lead to a dark hole in the ground just past the high-water mark.
May 30, 2010
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