Pelagic Red Crabs Take Over Aquarium's Great Tide Pool

Jan 05, 2016

Exhibits & Animals
Pelagic red crabs in the Great Tide Pool. ©Monterey Bay Aquarium


Pelagic red crabs (Pleuroncodes planipes)—also know as tuna crabs or langostilla—started washing up along Monterey Bay beaches yesterday! Typically found off of Mexico and southern California, these scarlet drifters are a favorite of tuna, whales, birds, and turtles. 

Pelagic red crabs are in the squat lobster family—a group of crustaceans midway between true lobsters and true crabs. While their “pelagic” description refers to their life in the open ocean, the largest and oldest crabs (about two years old) appear to be found only on the deep sea floor of the continental shelf.  

While these crabs do tend to mate in the winter, mass stranding events like these don’t closely correlate to the breeding season. Our recent beach parties of youngsters were simply swept up in the current.

A rare sight in our area, tuna crabs are usually associated with El Niño conditions—the last time they made their way this far was in 1983. Warmer waters building with this winter’s El Niño—coupled with “The Blob” of tepid seas hanging off the coast since last year—could mean these crabs continue their current-driven journey even further north.

For local sea life, it’s a feeding frenzy fiesta. The arrival of the crabs has also brought a few of their close associates to the area, including the first bluefin tuna to come into the Monterey Bay in a decade! So head down to the beach after your visit to the Aquarium within the next few days—you too may get a chance at wading with some crabby wanderers.


((Story pulled from the aquarium's official Tumblr post published on October 8, 2015))

Download this release as a PDF

The mission of the nonprofit Monterey Bay Aquarium is to inspire conservation of the ocean.