Posted by admin | 05.01.2013 | Marine Science
From Pot to Platter: A Blue Crab Buffet
For those who like seafood, there’s no doubt you’ve indulged on the delicious Callinectes sapidus. Whether in cakes, soup, or dips, this arthropod is certainly a savory treat. This tastiness is what lends itself to the blue crab’s scientific name – “savory, beautiful swimmer”. All it takes is to crack into a threatening pincher and slide that succulent meat out, to realize the significance of the name, and become a convert to this coastal cuisine. Flavor aside, what is even more interesting is the story of how the crustacean got to your plate.
Like other arthropods, the blue crab has a very challenging life. The crab you are fixing to eat for lunch hatched from a clutch of a million eggs, and was most likely the only survivor. They then go through several life stages – from egg to zoea to megalopa to juvenile – until becoming a mature adult. The male spends the spring and summer months in a desperate search for a mate. And not just any female will suffice. He must find a female who will soon molt her exoskeleton.
Females mate only once in their lives, during their terminal molt. The male engages in courtship by releasing pheromones (chemicals that attract) while performing an impressive dance routine waving his claws and standing high on his feet. The male may have to repeat this process several times. Once the female finds the courtship routine acceptable, the male now transitions from dance partner to bodyguard. Patience ensues, as the male must protect the female until she molts, which could take days if not a week.
Finally the female peels out the back of her exoskeleton and begins her terminal molt into sexual maturity! We may now respectfully call her a “sook”. From here mating will take a few hours, and upon completion the male must wait for the female’s skeleton to harden completely before he releases her. Soft crabs are highly vulnerable to predators, and the mighty male provides protection.
Months later, the female swims determinedly to the high salinity waters to lay her eggs, her swimming legs stroking the water up to 40 times per minute! This graceful swim further justifies their name. The eggs hatch into larvae and become part of the planktonic world. Each larva will complete several more transformations before reaching adult form, further up the extents of the estuary. Unfortunately for C. sapidus, many of these larvae become a meal for the countless predators awaiting their return. By late fall the remaining larvae will then transform into their first crab stage and after a dormant winter grow to reach edible size – just in time for summer. This is the point when you pull your crab trap, transfer your catch to a hot pot of boiling water, and call dinner.
This Blog is brought to you by Sea Turtle Camp,Assistant Director, Alden Picard.
Fascination with the natural world began at a young age for Alden as he spent his free time exploring the wilderness of Falls Lake, NC in his back yard! Alden has traveled all over the United States gaining a deep respect for nature from a summer spent salmon fishing in the heart of Alaska’s wilderness to working with coastal projects on the Carolina coast.
He is a graduate from Warren Wilson College in Asheville, NC where he earned a degree in Environmental Studies, a concentration in Environmental Education, and a minor in Outdoor Leadership. During college, he was a leader for EcoTeam, an environmental education program designed to connect 3rd graders to the natural world through in-class experiential education. From there, Alden’s passion for teaching and the North Carolina coast merged while working as an education intern for the North Carolina Coastal Federation. Alden took his knowledge of the coast with him to Tybee Island where he has spent the last year as instructor for the Burton 4-H Center. After an incredible summer working with passionate youth and sea turtles, Alden will begin his Masters of Environmental Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.