Home Misc. Marine Life Echinoderms Shrimp Boat Photo Journal Favorite Photos
     

 

Horseshoe Crabs and Red Knots: save these species!

*****Nature Guide to the Carolina Coast


Crab Photos
search this site the web
search powered by freefind

Jo O'Keefe Copyright 2014 All Rights Reserved. Photos may be used for educational purposes only. Contact me with inquiries.

Tube Pea Crab, Pinnixa chaetoptyerana, Sunset Beach, NC, 07/22/13
Speckled Crab, Arenaeus cribrarius, covered with branching bryozoa, Sunset Beach, NC, 05/14/13
 

Amateur marine naturalist Peter Meyer found these two Shellback Crabs, probably Hypoconcha arcuata, and shared photos with me. He found the crab in the first row at Wrightsville, Beach, NC, and the crab without a shell on Masonboro Island, NC. Like hermit crabs, Shellback Crabs lack shells of their own. A Shellback Crab carries a clam shell on itsback, holding the shell in place with its last two pairs of legs. This reminds me of a woman carrying a jug on her head -- except that women learn to do it with one hand or no hands.

Albunea paretii -- Mole Crab, Sunset Beach, NC, 04/05/10
   
Banded Porcelain Crab, Petrolisthes galathinus, Sunset Beach, NC, 01/19/10
   
Spineback Hairy Crab, Pilumnus sayi, Sunset Beach, NC, 10/20/09; microscope photo
Green Porcelain Crab, Petrolisthes armatus, Sunset Beach, NC, 10/20/09; microscope photo
   
Calico Box Crab, Hepatus epheliticus, Sunset Beach, NC, 10/16/09
   
Blue Crabs, Callinectes sapidus
   
The Tidal Spray Crab, Plagusia depressa, Cherry Grove Beach, SC, 10/07/07. Because the spray or splash zone is only splashed by spray and rarely covered by water, the only marine animals found there are those able to live outside water and while exposed to air.
Sargassum Crab
Portunus sayi
Sargassum Crab, Portunus sayi, Sunset Beach, 07/11/07
Purse Crab
Purse Crab
Mottled Purse Crab, Persephona mediterranea
Purse Crab
Sponge Purse Crab
Sponge Mottled Purse Crab, Persephona mediterranea, ready to release millions of eggs
   
Iridescent Swimming Crab, Portunus gibbesii, Sunset Beach, NC, 01/10/07
Iridescent Swimming Crab
Portunus gibbesii
Iridescent Swimming Crab, Portunus gibbesii, a relative of the blue crab -- surfacing in left photo
Lady Crab, Ovalipes ocellatus, found under the sand on Sunset Beach, NC, 01/06/07
Speckled Crab, Arenaeus cribrarius, found under the sand on Sunset Beach, NC
   
Speckled Crab, Arenaeus cribrarius, Sunset Beach, NC, 10/25/07
 
Ghost Crab, Ocypode quadrata, Sunset Beach, NC, 09/26/11
Today was a special day. Because I have spent most of the time at home for two and a half years, I rarely go to the beach. This was my sixth walk since April. While I was at the ocean's edge, I heard young boys squealing. I looked up and saw them with their mother at the high tide line. Eager to see what they had found, I pushed my beach cart full of supplies uphill to them. They were trying to turn over a Ghost Crab with fragile pieces of reeds. They pushed the crab into one of my empty buckets. After I set up my tripod and camera and knelt down, the son in charge of the crab tipped the bucket to release him. I had to crawl after the crab on my knees. Several times the boy directed it back toward me with a reed. After my photos, he scooped up the crab with the bucket. Another one of the children had gone for some ocean water. The children wanted their father to see the crab before they released it. The mother put one heavy Ziploc bag into another because of concern that the crab would tear the plastic. They added a quarter cup of water. Though the family from Ohio did not know what a Ghost Crab was until today and they did all of the work, I was delighted to share a visit with the crab.
   
Ghost Crabs, Ocypode quadrata,and Ghost Crab Hole
   
   
Sand Fiddler Crabs, Uca pugilator -- those in the lower photo were on Sunset Beach, NC, 06/07/08
   
A 5-year-old boy with a Sand Fiddler crab
Spider Crab
Spider Crab
Live Spider Crab
Spider Crab under water
   
Spider Crabs, live, rescued from ghost crab pot, Sunset Beach, NC, 03/08/09
Spider Crab on Cannonball Jellyfish, Edisto Island, SC, 05/08
Spider Crab on Anemone in aquarium, 05/02/07
   
Porcelain Crab
Cherry-Striped Porcelain Crab, Petrolisthes galathinus, in my aquarium
Pilumnus sayi
Pilumnus sayi
Spineback Hairy Crab, Pilumnus sayi

Stone Crabs

Stone Crabs are how my new life began. In late summer 2004 I sent two photos of a Stone Crab to our endearing and encouraging newspaper editor via email simply to share them because the light of the sinking sun was spectacular. He liked the photos enough to publish them. Knowing that I could take equally good photos of other animals and tired of collecting seashells, I began to photograph various marine animals. Researchers throughout the country graciously identified species for me. The editor frequently published my photos. Yet I had much to learn. Within two months of leaping into this new-found adventure, I picked up a huge Stone Crab in order to rinse sand off of him to get good photos. He grasped my right index finger with both claws. I screamed for help because I could not free my finger, went to the ER for stitches, and then had an infection and a month of occupational therapy. Although I still pick up and rinse off many animals, I use better judgment. This stingray is an example. http://www.okeefes.org/Photo_Journal/May_2008/May_2008.htm. I still have not learned complete restraint as the photos of an American Alligator on this page demonstrate: http://www.okeefes.org/Photo_Journal/March_2008/March_2008.htm. I was dangerously close to it when I took the photos.

Photographing animals was only the beginning. I began collecting live specimens for aquaria and dead ones for museums and universities. At each step of my journey, I learned more. As my website grew larger with photos of marine life, my family photos were bumped to a second website, www.okeefes.info. Soon Google began to use scores, perhaps hundreds, of my photos. I began to receive requests for my photos from educational facilities such as state parks, universities, aquaria, museums -- and recently a national park. I receive photos of animals to identify and questions about animals. In the process I simultaneously learned more about photography and also became involved with coastal birds, both injured and dead. I became very involved with two animals, Horseshoe Crabs and Knobbed Whelks. Each fall I collected 50 Horseshoe Crab exoskeletons or molts that I donated to schools, aquaria and museums. One of my photos of a live Knobbed Whelk is on the cover of a book of poetry!

Over time my kitchen became a mini-laboratory. I purchased a microscope, scientific sieves for rinsing seaweed in order to extract animals, Petrie dishes and an illuminating magnifier. It enables me to find a hundred times more specimens within seaweed, on sponges and on dried sea drift that I bring home, sieve and rinse, and then dry. In containers filled with alcohol I save minute brittle stars and sea spiders. I freeze hundreds of animals such as microscopic amphipods, isopods and worms in sandwich bags with sea water to give to researchers.

People, especially children, have been the best part of my experience. Although now I only show them juvenile Stone Crabs such as the one below in the right-hand column, I share with them the variety of live specimens in my containers -- Sea Stars, Sand Dollars and Sea Cucumbers, whelks, Shark Eyes and Banded Tulips, and Spider Crabs, Sand Fiddler Crabs and Speckled Crabs. Other species are Sea Whips, sponges, Sea Pansies, Colonial and Solitary Tunicates and egg cases. I could not list everything. The joy children have holding the animals, the photos their parents take of them doing so, and what I am able to teach them about marine life have made this a wondrous experience, one that began with two photos of a Stone Crab.

Quite a few times I sent boxes of specimens to educators and biologists. Below is what one educator recently wrote after using the sponges, sea stars, sand dollars, sea whips, etc. at a school.:

"I want you to know that the presentation was absolutely wonderful. The kids thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish you could have seen their faces when I told them that the specimens were theirs. They could not wait to get close to them. I took a picture of each class standing around the table with the specimens laid out. I kept a few smaller crab specimens to use with my grandson's class in preschool. The only request I have is that, if you ever get another horseshoe crab, may I please have it to give to that school. I told them the one you sent was mine and that I will take it to other schools. I promised them that if I ever got another I would bring it to them."

"I started out with one class scheduled. then two more teachers asked if I could present on the same day to theirs. I ended up with six classes and will go back next Tuesday for five more. Thanks to you it was a major success. I told them all about you and how you walk the beaches taking pictures and saving these items for schools and others. The school will be sending you a thank you for the donations and I will send the pictures after I take pictures with the other five classes next week. Thank you so much for all of your help and the generous donations of the marine specimens for this school."


This is my life. I have never had so much fun! Besides helping countless people, I experience the excitement and thrill of each new species, each good photo, and the delight of the persons that I encounter.

Stone Crab claws
Juvenile Stone Crab
Pilumnus sayi with Stone Crab claws
Stone Crab, Menippe mercenaria, juvenile
Stone Crab
Stone Crab
Stone Crab claw
 
A 6.5 inch long pincer, not unlike the two that tore my finger
   
Stone Crab
Stone Crab
Stone Crabs, Menippe mercenaria
Lady Crab Shells
Mud Crab Shell
Lady Crab Shells, Ovalipes ocellatus
Mud Crab Shell
   
Calico Crab Shells
Calico Crab Shells
Calico Crab Shells
   
Stone Crab Eye, Menippe mercenaria
Lady Crab Eye, Ovalipes ocellatus
   
Striped Hermit Crab
Striped or Thinstripe Hermit Crab, Clibanarius vittatus, Sunset Beach, 07/11/07
Thinstripe Hermit Crab, Clibanarius vittatus, in aquarium, 09/15/07
Thinstripe Hermit Crabs, Clibanarius vittatus, in aquarium, 05/20/07

A Hermit Crab Takes a Walk

On May 8, 2008, I saw what looked like a Knobbed Whelk walking on Edisto Island, SC. It was moving far faster than a whelk would move. Zooming in, I saw that it was a Thinstrip Hermit Crab, Clibanarius vittatus, in an empty whelk shell. It was moving parallel to the ocean. After taking the photos below, I carried to the edge of the water.

Hermit Crab
Flat-clawed Hermit Crab, Pagurus pollicaris, without a home
   
Flat-clawed Hermit Crab, Pagurus pollicaris, in Knobbed Whelk Shell
Probably a Long-wristed Hermit Crab, Pagurus longicarpus; if not, it is a Flat-clawed Hermit Crab
 

Horseshoe Crabs, Limulus polyphemus

Horseshoe Crabs are not actual crabs. They are one of three groups of marine arthropods: Horseshoe Crabs, Sea Spiders and Crustaceans. Crustaceans are true crabs. At www.horseshoecrab.org you can learn about Horseshoe Crabs and find an opportunity to support research. Like crustaceans, Horseshoe Crabs have six pairs of appendages. The first, very small pair is used to put ground-up food into the crab's mouth. The next five pairs are for walking. The first of those five, i.e., the second pair of appendages, is larger in males and is used to grasp a female during spawning.

There are two very important facts to know about Horseshoe Crabs. They have existed for hundreds of millions of years, even before dinosaurs, and are sometimes considered the oldest living animal on earth. Their blue blood is critical for testing medications during development for endotoxins prior to the drugs' approval. In some parts of the United States, such as Delaware, thousands of Horseshoe Crabs come ashore to spawn on a single evening. On June 1, 2007, under a full moon, an estimated 463,587 Horseshoe Crabs spawned along the beaches of the Delaware Bay. In contrast, I rarely find a live Horseshoe Crab on Sunset Beach, NC. A colleague in Alabama has not seen one in 10 years.

About six months ago I saw a group of adults far out on a sandbar watching something in the water. Every few minutes they would jump, obviously startled. I walked out to see what they were watching. It could have been anything, even a seabird needing rescue. Sure enough, it was a very large female Horseshoe Crab, at least 10 inches wide. She was so heavy that after I picked her up, I asked one of the men to help me turn her over. I told the folks what it was and identified the book gills and appendages.

Below are two photos of a large female Horseshoe Crab. Her book gills have been eaten by other animals. An arrow marks the first, small pair of appendages.

   
Shown above are two scars and a thumbprint on the same female Horseshoe Crab's upper carapace. Males, much smaller, ride on the backs of females as the females crawl onto the sand to deposit eggs. Males deposit semen on top of the eggs. Because each female repeatedly carries males, she develops scars on the left and right from their large from claws as well as an abrasion called a "thumbprint" where the center of the males' carapaces touch her shell.
Horseshoe Crab eggs in a shell 12 inches wide, Edisto Island, SC, May 2008. I found the crab dead with appendages and book gills eaten away.
This is the shell on the left. It is 29 inches long from the front edge of the carapace to the tip of the tail.
Horseshoe Crab
   
   
Horseshoe Crab
Horseshoe Crab
Horseshoe Crab, live, Sunset Beach, NC, 12/14 and 12/15/06. There are mollusks attached on the top and bottom. It was very heavy due to its size and the sand inside its carapace, which was at least 10 inches wide.
   
Horseshoe Crab Molts
Horseshoe Crab Molts
Horseshoe crab molts found on Sunset Beach, NC, 11/03/06
Horseshoe Crab
Horseshoe Crab
Large live Horseshoe Crab, shell 10 inches wide