Crabs That Live in Oyster Shells

A tiny crab is a nuisance to an oyster.
A tiny crab is a nuisance to an oyster. (Image: oyster image by Filip Mazurek from

The Pinnotheres ostreum, also known as the "pea" crab or oyster crab, is a specific breed of tiny crab that is occasionally found inside the shell of an oyster. They are often found in pairs when they are present. Due to their extreme rarity, oyster crabs are eaten as a delicacy. When present, they survive by ingesting some of the food that the oyster takes in.


Oyster crabs range in color from pink to white and are nearly translucent. They are tiny enough to easily fit inside an oyster shell. A full-grown adult male may reach up to two centimeters across, while most oyster crabs are much smaller.


Oyster crabs are found in North America along the Atlantic coast. Oyster crabs live nestled inside of oyster shells for the duration of their lives because of the safety that the shell brings the soft crab.They rarely occupy found oyster shells, but are more likely to be found in oysters living in the Chesapeake Bay and other northern waters.


Because oyster crabs take food from the oyster, they slow the oysters growth, and are thus considered parasites. The crab, however, does not eat the oyster or generally harm it, with the exception of taking some of the collected food for itself.

Uses in Food

Oyster crabs, due to their rarity, are eaten as a delicacy, though their taste is similar to that of shrimp. They are cooked whole because their shells are soft and indigestible.

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