Atlantic Mole Crab (Emerita talpoidia)
Phylum: Arthropoda (Crustacea)
Genus and species: Emerita talpoidia
Mole crabs are not “true” crabs. Instead they are a related group of organisms which are found on beaches around the world. There are 10 recognized species in the Emerita genus, one of which is local to the Chesapeake Bay area.
During the summer mole crabs live in an area of the inter-tidal zone known as the “swash zone”. The swash zone is exactly what it sounds like–the area where the waves come and “ssssssssssssssswash” ashore, from the area where they crash onto the beach to the extent that they come inland. The mechanics of the swash zone are actually a lot more complicated than this, but that is a topic for another day.
The mole crab burrows in the sand and uses its antennae to filter feed. These guys eat plankton and detritus. They are easily found by digging in the area where the wave hits the beach and retreats, as well as when they are washed too far ashore at high tide to be able to dig into the sand. Mole crabs need sand that is mostly water to “dig” in, otherwise they get stuck and look dead (like these guys–when you put them back into the water, they zoom off and dig in).
Females are about an inch long (sometimes up to 1 1/2 inches) and males are no more than about a half an inch. Their life span is thought to be about 2-3 years, and they are capable of reproducing in their first year.
Also, the Hubby says he’s heard they make pretty good bait for fishing (just found this site, which has some awesome pics, a great explanation of how to catch them, along with advice on using them as bait).
And…for you adventurous foraging types, mole crabs are apparently EDIBLE for people!!