I met this little crab on a beach in Cape May, New Jersey. It’s Ocypoda quadrata, called a ghost crab or sand crab. The Latin name Ocypoda means “fast-footed,” and quadrata describes the rectangular shape of its carapace, or back. It is pale like a ghost, and camouflaged to blend with the sand. It is famous for hunkering down and covering itself with sand very quickly, seeming to disappear before your eyes.
Ghost crabs live in burrows in the sand above the high water line. They don’t go far from the ocean; females lay their eggs in the water. The crabs are mainly nocturnal, but they come out in the day.
They hunt at the water’s edge, running after the retreating surf to pick up bits of food like sand fleas, clams, mole crabs, turtle eggs, detritus, and vegetation. Ghost crabs are common on Atlantic coastal beaches from Rhode Island south to Brazil.
Ghost crabs have eyes on long stalks that let them see 360 degrees around; there’s no sneaking up on a ghost crab!