Florida has several types of crabs, from ocean-colored blue crabs to sand-colored golden crabs. This guide will explore all the kinds of crabs inhabiting Florida’s beaches and coastal areas.
As a native Floridian, I’ve done my fair share of crabbing. Although these crustaceans don’t wander far from shore (some even stay deep underwater), they’re plentiful throughout Florida, and most make for a fantastic meal.
If you’re looking to find some tasty Florida crabs, keep reading. We’ll explore what kinds of crabs to look for, where to look for them, and how to catch them. Enjoying fresh-caught Florida crab has never been easier!
There are more than a dozen crab species in Florida; some are exceptionally common (looking at you, Atlantic blue crab), while others are rare. Let’s discuss seven types of crabs you can most expect to see while exploring the Sunshine State!
Atlantic Blue Crab
The Atlantic blue crab is the most common edible crab in Florida. As a result, it’s not unusual to find Florida grocery stores and restaurants selling this type of crab, either fresh-caught or freshly prepared.
As you might suspect, this crab gets its name from its bright blue claws. These claws are the primary target for crabbers, although the body meat is equally prized and delicious.
This crab can grow up to 9 inches across, so it’s not the largest type of Florida crab you can find. But these crabs are plentiful, which is why they’re one of the most popular choices among crabbers.
You can catch these crabs by casting nets or lines off of coastal fishing piers, and they’re in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic shorelines. Recreational anglers should remember to complete their online registration before catching these crabs.
Florida Stone Crab
When it comes to claw size, it’s hard to beat the Florida stone crab (Menippe mercenaria). This crustacean can develop claws over 5 inches long. For perspective, some Florida crabs have a total body size half that length!
One of the unique aspects of this crab is its ability to regenerate lost limbs. You can harvest a Florida stone crab’s claw, toss it back into the water, and it’ll be ready for re-harvesting in a few years.
You can catch these crabs using traps, although you can also dive down and grab them yourself if you have snorkeling equipment. As with Atlantic blue crabs, anglers must complete an online registration form before setting out stone crab traps.
While the Atlantic blue crab and Florida stone crab tend to reside fairly close to shore, making them easy catches for interested anglers and crabbers, the golden crab is a bit trickier. That said, it’s one of the largest crabs you can find along Florida’s coastlines.
This elusive (but tasty) Florida crab can lurk thousands of feet beneath the salty ocean waters, and it prefers living far from the foamy shorelines. Consequently, you’ll likely need to have a boat available (and some sizeable deep-sea crab traps) to harvest these crabs.
Atlantic Sand Fiddler Crab
The Atlantic sand fiddler crab (Leptuca pugilator) has a distinct look that differentiates it from other Florida crabs.
For a start, this crab has protruding eyes that sit outside its body, elevated on wiggling eyestalks. Secondly, this crab has one large claw that’s almost half its body size, making it easy to identify.
Although you won’t often find these crabs scurrying along the shorelines of major Florida beaches, they are common inhabitants of marshy inlets. So, wherever the salty ocean water meets freshwater rivers, you’ll likely find the Atlantic sand fiddler crab enjoying a brackish lifestyle.
But the Atlantic sand fiddler crab is more of a treat for your eyes than your stomach. Although they possess a large claw that can be tempting for crabbers, they rarely ever grow beyond 2 inches in size, making them poor choices for crab meat.
You’ll find two main species of sand crab in Florida (Emerita benedicti and Emerita talpoida), and neither makes for great eats.
This tiny crab (also called a sand flea) is only a few centimeters long. Consequently, you won’t be able to harvest much meat from these creatures. In fact, sand crabs don’t have claws!
Their tiny bodies are fairly oblong and roundish, resembling a tiny pod more than a squarish claw-wielding crab. While these crabs are prevalent throughout Florida’s coastal areas (you can find them pretty much anywhere there’s wet sand), they’re often ignored by crabbers due to their comparative lack of edibility.
Harris Mud Crab
If you’re exploring Florida’s estuaries, you might come across the Harris mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii). This tiny brown crab also inhabits the gulf coastlines, particularly areas where the gulf waters travel inland via brackish rivers and inlets.
This crab is popular among anglers, as it’s small and plentiful enough to become an excellent bait source. That said, the Harris mud crab’s tiny size doesn’t make it the best choice for eating.
These crabs don’t tend to congregate on exposed shorelines. Instead, they hide among rocks or shell piles. Because these creatures enjoy eating decaying organic matter and algae, you can often find them along estuary river bottoms.
One of the most instantly recognizable types of crabs you’ll find in Florida is the horseshoe crab. This crab has a distinctly prehistoric look, with an armored body and a skate-like tail. Only when you flip this creature over will you be able to spot its crabby claws.
These crabs cluster in shallow coastal areas, though they occasionally make beach appearances, especially when the tides change. These “living fossils” are semi-protected in Florida, so you might need a special license before harvesting horseshoe crabs.
However, the horseshoe crab isn’t the in-demand type of crab (in terms of eating), especially in North America. So, if you’re looking to harvest crabs for eating, you might want to skip this species.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you have further questions about the types of crabs you can find in Florida’s waters? If so, don’t hesitate to check out these frequently asked questions (and their answers)!
What crabs are local to Florida?
Nearly all the crabs in Florida are native to the state or introduced so long ago that they’ve essentially become native creatures!
One of the primary exceptions to this is the European green crab (Carcinus maenas), an invasive species that’s been spotted more regularly along Florida’s coastlines over the last few years.
What edible crabs are in Florida?
Technically, all crabs you’ll find in Florida are edible, and that said, some are too small to make for a good meal. The most popular for-eating crabs in the Sunshine State are the Atlantic blue crab, stone crab, and golden crab.
What kind of crabs are on Florida beaches?
Florida’s beaches are home to various crabs, including sand crabs, hermit crabs, and blue crabs. The Atlantic sand fiddler crab also prefers living in wet sand, and you might spy a few of these crabs while crabbing along Florida’s beaches.