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Mole Crab (Emerita talpoida)

Among the smallest of the crabs, the mole crab - like other crabs - has five pairs of legs, but they do not have pincers, and, rather than walking sideways, they always move backwards. Females grow to about one inch, while males grow to about half an inch.

You can find mole crabs by digging a hole in the sand at the very edge of the wash from the waves. Allow water to enter the hole, and swish it around. You should see mole crabs darting through the water before they quickly burry themselves in the sand.

The eyes of the mole crab are on slender, white, hair-width stalks (the shorter, white projections on the right side of the crab in the upper photo). While it is not easy to know the first time which end of a mole crab is the front, you can find out by holding one in your hand and watching which direction the crab moves: the front end is the end to the rear of the direction of motion. Also, the largest and strongest pair of legs is at the front end (lower photo, right side).

With the wash of the incoming waves at their back side, these crabs collect organic matter and very small creatures for food as the water rushes back down the beach over them. Between tides, they dig into the sand to hide from the shorebirds who would eat them (larger crabs and fish also make meals of them).

Sometimes on Assateague beach, you'll see fishermen gathering mole crabs for bait with meshed wire nets attached to poles.

Mole crabs are found along the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts southward.

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