Otherwise, it’s rare to see such a small creature with so many handles. I refer to them as mole crabs, because of their propensity for burying themselves in the wash zone. Others call them Atlantic sand crabs, beach hoppers or sand fleas. Marine biologists classify them in the genus, Emerita, and the family, Hippidae.
By any name — Ray, Zimmy, Scoop, Emily — they are fascinating to observe. Female mole crabs grow to one inch in length and males are smaller; both are extremely quick as they dart through the surf for their very lives.
The barrell-shaped crabs use their antennae to filter plankton and detritis (organic materials like decaying creatures and feces) in the shifting sands beneath breaking waves. To avoid predators, they burrow butt-first in the sand as the tide ebbs. Pompano, flounder and red drum just love to devour them.
Lately, I’ve seen an abundance of mole crabs while wading through the surf. It’s been a blast watching as willets (from the sandpiper family) and sanderlings hunt for them by plunging their beaks into the soft, wet sands.
Willets swallow them whole, while sanderlings decimate their innards with a jackhammer-like attack.
Dig this! “Moles” are my favorite crab. They look to me like miniature tanks. I’ve heard they always move, when not being tumbled by the surf, in reverse. The live ones tickle your hand when you hold them. How can you not like them?
But sometimes the sadistic side of my otherwise laid-back persona takes over and I feed them to shorebirds. With friends like me, who needs enemies, huh?
As Clint Eastwood said in The Outlaw Josey Wales, “Buzzards gotta eat, same as worms.”