Stone Crab Habits in Florida

Stone crabs mean big money for Florida fishermen, who hauled in 2.6 million pounds of the crustacean, worth $17 million in 2009. Florida waters harbor two varieties, the Florida stone crab and the Gulf stone crab, which account for 99 percent of the stone crabs caught in the United States. It's estimated that the mostly carnivorous stone crabs live six to nine years.

  1. Reproduction

    • Most mating occurs in the fall, after the female has molted. The crab eggs are stored under her abdomen in what's called a sponge, and each crab can produce several sponges--with up 1 million eggs each--in a single spawning season. The female crab usually spawns between April and September. Most spawn at least once before their claws reach the 2.5-inch legal harvest size.

    Claws

    • Stone crabs have one large crushing claw and a smaller pincer claw they use for cutting. Stone crab claws are a delicacy in Florida, but many of the crabs live to crawl another day because only their claws are harvested by commercial and recreational fishermen. If properly removed, the claw will regenerate in a year or two.

    Diet

    • Florida's stone crabs are aggressive foragers. The crab's large crusher claw gives it the strength to tear into lots of underwater delicacies, such as oysters, clams and even other crabs. If it loses its claws, however, it has to resort to scavenging while staying out of the way of predators.

    Habitat

    • The crab's larval stage is spent near shore or in estuaries, while juveniles hide further out under rocks or any other shelter they can find. Adult stone crabs tend to be found burrowing in seagrass beds or around coral or hardbottom anywhere from the shallows to depths up to 200 feet. Their burrows become habitat and hideouts for other marine life.

    Differences

    • The Gulf variety is a maroon-brown stone crab. Its southern cousin is more beige, with dark spots and bands. While the two stone crab varieties have separate habitats--the Florida in the south and the Gulf in the Panhandle to the north--they do occasionally mix and interbreed. In fact, they were once one species, but the populations became distinct over time.

    Oversight and Study

    • The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission oversees the stone crab fishery in Florida; it's responsible for making sure the species is not overfished. The FWC's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute studies the crustacean.

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