Common on open sandy beaches between high- and low-tide lines, the Pacific Sand Crab is found from Alaska to Chile
© Tom McHugh/Photo Researchers, Inc.
The Atlantic Mole Crab is often used for bait, and can be collected in large numbers by attaching a wire mesh net to a common garden rake, and then raking the wave-swept beach.
© Gilbert S. Grant/Photo Researchers, Inc.
The scene repeats itself at most beaches—and everyone who was every a kid recognizes it. While some people hang out in the water up to their necks, others like to spend their time peacefully on the sand. This is the story of a creature that’s happiest where the babies play, right at the water’s edge.
On both coasts little crustaceans known as sand crabs or mole crabs burrow into the sand in the swash zone and let the shallow waves break over their backs. As this happens, the mole crabs use their feathery antennae to strain tiny food particles from the surf. That’s the behavior you’re seeing anytime you’ve picked one up and felt it wiggling in your palm as the wet sand drains away.
Mole crabs are hump-backed and not very comely, but unlike some other crabs, they have no claws and cannot bite or pinch. So every kid who’s ever found a sand crab can’t resist playing a bit with it. And the same still true for most of us grown-ups too.