Crustaceans related to lobsters and shrimps, crabs are distinguishable by their ability to burrow and walk on land. The body of the invertebrate is covered by a shell called the carapace, which varies in size and shape depending on the species and gender. During a trip to Florida’s marshes, mangroves and tidal flats, and one can find native crabs scavenging for food. Among the more popular species are the blue, fiddler, stone and hermit crabs.
One of Florida’s popular cooking crabs, the blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) is native to Atlantic waters. Its blue legs and claws is what give the crustacean its name. The carapace is a duller muddy brown and can measure up to nine inches. The sex of the crab can be told by the shape of its abdomen; the female’s has a rounder “U” shaped abdomen, while the male’s body is narrower and “V” shaped. The female blue crab’s claws are also red on the tip, a feature that the male crab does not share.
The stone crab (Menippe mercenaria) is another Floridian crab prized by local cooks; it is known for its large, lobster-sized claws that can weigh up to a pound. Identified by its reddish brown legs and the brown spots on its carapace, the mature crab’s oval-shaped bodies can measure up to seven inches. The claws are often not uniform in shape, as the “crusher” claw is larger than “pincer claw.” These signature black-tipped claws are removed during the harvesting, and afterwards the crab is discarded alive to regenerate its claws.
A tiny crab known for its unusually big claw, the fiddler crab (Uca pugnax) is mostly brown with flecks of blue in its carapace and eye stalks. Its carapace measures a meager 2 inches in both the male and female. However, the males of the species are distinguishable because they have one huge claw, which gives the crab its name. Females do not have any large claws; instead they have two small claws which they use solely for feeding. These small crabs tend to forage in packs, eating algae and other organic matter around the marshes.
The hermit crab (Coenobita clypeatus) differs from many other crab species due to its curved abdomen. It is sometimes called a soldier crab, because its legs and claws come out of a helmet-shaped shell. Like a snail, the crab's shell is its home, which it can withdraw into for protection against predators. These crabs are also known to switch shells as they get older and bigger, by either trading with another crab or moving into the shells of deceased crabs.