Go Ahead, Get Crabby! Your Guide to Sand Crabs

One of the most exciting and often awe-inspiring aspects of any travel is the wildlife you get to interact with. In Panama City, you may see all kinds of fascinating marine animals, from sea turtles to dolphins.

In most cases, you’ll view these animals from a safe distance so that you and the animal both feel comfortable. But you may also have the chance to get up close and personal with some of the smallest creatures on the beach: sand crabs.

In this blog, we guide you through everything you need to know about finding, observing and even catching these tiny crustaceans.

What Are Sand Crabs?

Sand crabs are crustaceans, the same family of marine animals as lobsters, hermit crabs, and shrimp. You may also hear sand crabs called sand fleas, mole crabs, or sea cicadas. The scientific name for sand crabs is emerita. These creatures usually range from the size of a dime to the size of a nickel.

Sand crabs can be several colors, but generally, they’re the same color as the sand they live in for camouflage purposes. So most sand crabs are gray, tan or some variation thereof. Some crabs have bright orange coloring. These crabs are females and they may even carry orange eggs, called roe, around with them.

Where Do Sand Crabs Live?

You’ll find sand crabs on many beaches. In fact, scientists have observed sand crabs as far north as Alaska. Florida is one of the locations where you are most likely to see these tiny critters in their natural habitat.

If you’re looking for sand crabs, you’ll need to get close to the water. Sand crabs catch their food by burrowing themselves deep in the sand where the tide flows in and out, an area known as the swash zone. The sand crabs typically eat food like microscopic plankton, but the crabs also eat the other food sources brought in by the tide. Burrowing in the sand also keeps the crabs from drying out.

You’ll know you’ve found a sand crab feeding area when you see small “v” shapes in the sand as the waves roll out. Each of these shapes represents the antennae of a sand crab.

How Can You Catch Sand Crabs?

To get a better look at a sand crab, you’ll have to bring the creature to the surface. If you plan to catch sand crabs, remember that they rely on constant moisture so you should plan to place the animals in a container with water or wet sand.

You may catch a sand crab simply by picking up all the sand around one of the telltale “v”s that marks a crab’s hideout. As you hold the sand, the crab should begin to dig its way out. You can let the sand sift through your fingers until just the crustacean is left.

You can build your own sand crab trap by digging a hole, a little deeper than a foot, into the sand where you see signs of sand crabs. Once you have your hole, wait for the water to come in. As the wave rolls up, shift the sand on the sides and bottom of your hole. This motion should encourage any nearby crabs to start swimming.

Cup your hands under a swimming sand crab to keep it from burrowing back into the sand. You may need to practice a few times—sand crabs are quick!

What Should You Do With Captured Sand Crabs?

Sand crabs are often used as bait for surf fishing. If you want to use crabs for bait, you’ll want to try and catch bigger crustaceans to make the baiting process easier and more effective. Be sure to check the rules about fishing on the beach you’re visiting before baiting your hook.

If you simply want to observe these fascinating small creatures, you can place several crabs in a shallow container as long as you have enough wet sand or seawater to keep their bodies damp. If you provide sand, you’ll be able to watch the crabs burrow and come back up as they explore.

You can also choose to hold a sand crab right in your hand. Despite being part of the crab family, sand crabs do not have sharp pincers. The critter may think your palm is sand and try to burrow, but you should only feel a tickling sensation.

You can keep the crabs for a short period of time, but you should plan on releasing them back into the swash zone before you leave the beach. Unlike hermit crabs and some other crustaceans, sand crabs do not make good pets since they have highly specific diets and habitat requirements.

What are you waiting for? Head out to the beach and help your family get acquainted with the local sea life, starting with the sand crabs.

To find the best beaches, diving areas, and sights to see the wildlife this area has to offer, reserve an adventure through FUN PCB.