by Kathy Kranking
A crab is a crab is a crab, right? No way! If you think all crabs are the same, you’re in for a surprise. These crusty creatures can be big or small, fuzzy or feisty, tricky or tough. With crabs, you never know what you might find!
This fuzzy-wuzzy creature is an orangutan crab. It’s called that because it’s covered with orange hairs, just as an ape called an orangutan is. The green stuff that the crab is on is bubble coral, its favorite hangout spot. As the crab sits, tiny bits of floating food get caught in its hairy coat. Then it uses its claws to “comb” out the food and eat it.
With its long, skinny legs, an arrow crab looks more like a spider than a crab. Except for its pointy snout, that is, which is an unusual look for a spider or a crab! The arrow crab doesn’t like other crabs getting near its “turf” and will chase away any trespassers.
They’re not faster than a speeding bullet. And they can’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. But crabs can still do some pretty super things.
There’s nothing drab about a Sally Lightfoot crab. This crab’s rainbow look is just one of the cool things about it. It got its name because it’s very light on its feet. A Sally Lightfoot speeds across the rocks on the ocean shore, even climbing straight up the sides. And it can walk on water—moving so quickly across the surface that it doesn’t sink!
A crab up a tree? That might seem strange to you, but the coconut crab will climb right up a palm tree to pick a coconut! This crab is the largest land crab, and it has big, strong claws. It uses them to break open the coconut. Then it eats the soft insides.
Now you see it, but in another moment you won’t! A ghost crab can dart into its sandy burrow so fast that it seems to disappear—just like a ghost! Another way it’s like a ghost is that it blends in so well with the sand. Ghost crabs can even slightly change their color to match more closely.
Lots of creatures would like to grab a crab for dinner. But these crabs have weapons that can make their enemies back off.
The pom-pom crab is not much bigger than your thumbnail. But it stays safe from most hungry enemies. How? By having two “bodyguards” to protect it. The crab carries a pair of stinging anemones (uh-NEM-uh-neez) in its claws. If an enemy tries to attack, the crab can use the anemones to sting it. Three cheers for this clever crab!
The spiny king crab is a “sharp dresser.” It wears a spiky suit of armor. This crab lives on the deep sea floor, where it creeps along looking for other crabs, sea stars, or dead animals to eat. But there aren’t many creatures that would try to eat it.
Sometimes the best way to stay safe is with a clever trick. Crabs that don’t have a way of fighting back can blend in, hide out, or go undercover.
This sponge crab is pretending it’s not a crab. It’s wearing a cover-up on its back—in this case, an animal called a sea squirt. Or it might wear a piece of sponge. Special rear legs hold the coverups in place. Crab? What crab?
This soft coral crab is hiding in plain sight. The little crab has colors that match perfectly with the coral it lives in. As a finishing touch, the crab will snip off some pieces of coral and attach them to itself, completing its disguise.
The shame-faced crab has a great trick. If it feels threatened, it covers its face with its wide claws. The claws fit together like puzzle pieces against the crab’s shell. In this position, the crab is like a tough little tank—protected all around from enemies.
Finding a mate isn’t always simple. Here are two kinds of crabs that really go the extra mile.
The claws and legs of a hermit crab are covered with a hard shell. But the back end of the crab’s body is soft and doesn’t have a shell. That’s OK—the hermit crab just borrows one! It finds an empty shell and moves in. Sorry, enemies—no easy meal here.
Red crabs live in the forests of their island home. But when it’s time to mate, they need to get to the ocean. So millions of red crabs trek across the island to the beach—a two-weeklong trip! After mating and releasing eggs into the water, it’s time to head back home.
The male fiddler crab has one claw that’s much bigger than the other. He uses it to get a mate. But he doesn’t just reach out and grab a passing female with it. Instead, he waves the claw back and forth to attract one. It’s as if he’s saying, “Hey, come on over here!”
That’s a sneak peek into the world’s grab bag of crabs!
"Crab Bag" originally appeared in the August 2016 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here for a close-up view of the photos.