Citizen science: If you see a blue land crab at the beach, researchers want to know about it
Biologists are asking visitors to eastern North Carolina’s beaches to be on the lookout for a crab species that’s not native to the Carolinas.
The first confirmed blue land crab sighting in the state occurred early this summer and researchers don’t yet know the extent of the crab’s distribution in the region. That’s why they’re turning to citizen scientists for help.
North Carolina Museum of Science researcher Dr. Bronwyn Williams said a blue land crab was first found in Emerald Isle this summer.
“It was the first report of a blue land crab in North Carolina,” she said.
Occasional sightings of the large crabs have been reported in South Carolina since 2008.
Since the sighting was reported in Carteret County, Williams said there have been, “A handful of other reports in and around the Bogue Sound area that certainly suggests that this was not just a single crab that hitched a ride, you know, let's say on somebody's boat trailer or outside vehicle luggage.”
The crab isn’t being treated as an invasive species, but a non-native one, because Williams said it’s too early to tell if it may have a negative impact on the beach environment.
“What sort of impacts it might have, whether it be on native crabs or other animals, or, more likely, vegetation since blue land crabs are, are known to be vegetarians and love to eat little tender shoots of grasses and other plants,” she explained.
Williams said anyone that spots a blue land crab along Bogue Sound is being asked to report the sighting online – with any photos or videos of the crustacean.
Despite their name, the crabs vary widely in color. She said adult males tend to have the characteristic blue-gray coloring, but females can also be white or ash-gray, and juveniles can range from orangish to dark brown to purple.
They’re also hoping to collect a few live crabs for testing. However, she said catching one of the elusive crabs should be done with some caution.
“These crabs can be quite large, and they have a very large claw. The going, it's going to hurt.” Williams said, “So, some caution is certainly warranted in trying to capture these crabs.
She said covering the crab with a bucket or container may be the safest way to avoid a pinch.
The museum and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality are working together on the research project.
People that spot a blue land crab can report that sighting HERE.
Click on the "listen" button above to hear the full interview with Dr. Williams.