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12 Types of Crabs in California (With Pictures)

California is filled with a wide array of scenery, from rural mountains to coastal beaches. It is on these beaches and shorelines that you will find a rich population of invertebrates, including crabs. The crabs in California play an important role for not only the ecosystem, but also the economy of the state. 

The crab itself helps to clean the sea floor by consuming decomposing animal and plant matter. They are also an indication of how healthy that area is. As for the economy, commercial fishing, which includes crabs, is a million dollar industry that is responsible for hundreds of thousands of jobs.

12 Crabs in California

Take a walk along one of the many beaches of California and you are sure to see at least one species of crab. There are even more species hiding under the water out of your view. Because of this, you may be unaware of just how many different species of crabs the state actually has. Keep reading to learn about 12 crabs in California.

1. Yellow Rock Crab

Yellow rock crab
Yellow rock crab | image by chilipossum via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0

Scientific Name: Metacarcinus anthonyi

The yellow rock crab is native to North America’s Pacific coast. It is found from the northern part of the state to Baja California, Mexico.

This species of crab thrives in rocky areas up to 433 feet below the surface of the ocean. This crab species is a scavenger, as well as a predator, praying on clams, snails, sea urchins, starfish, and other echinoderms.

2. Red Rock Crab

Red rock crab
Red rock crab | image by Taollan82 via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientific Name: Cancer productus

The red rock crab is found from Alaska all the way down to Baja California. As its name would suggest, this crab species is medium to dark red in color with a light yellow to white underside.

It measures about 8 inches wide and its pincers have blackened tips. Their claws do not have the same distinctive saw-toothed style as some other crabs in California.

3. Dungeness Crab

Dungeness crab
Dungeness crab | image by Gillfoto via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific Name: Metacarcinus magister

Once known as the market crab, the Dungeness crab has a reddish brown to almost purplish carapace. The front half of this carapace has an edge that is tipped with spines.

This species is commonly found in the Pacific Northwest, from Santa Barbara to Alaska, where it is commercially fished. The Dungeness crab measures up to 9 inches wide, which makes it one of the largest edible crabs found on America’s Pacific Coast.

4. Slender Crab

Slender crab
Slender crab | image by via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 2.5

Scientific Name: Cancer gracilis

Also called the graceful rock crab, this species is found from Baja California up to Alaska. It has an olive-brown carapace, purple to yellow-brown legs, and claws that are tipped in white. The Slender crab isn’t a large species and rarely reaches widths of over 3 inches.

5. Northern Kelp Crab

Northern kelp crab
Northern kelp crab | image by Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Pugettia producta

The Northern Kelp crab is found along North America’s Pacific Coast, from northern Mexico to southern Alaska. It has a olive brown to dark brown badge-shaped carapace, but its underside is a bit more vibrant with hues of orange, red, or yellow. They have long, hairless legs that are a common trait in the spider crab family, which the Northern Kelp crab is a member of.

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6. Sheep Crab

Sheep crab
Sheep crab | image by Ed Bierman via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Loxorhynchus grandis

Sheep crabs are a member of the spider crab family and can be found from Pt. Reyes California to Baja California, Mexico. They feed on organisms living on the bottom of the ocean, and they are not picky about whether these organisms are dead or alive. They are large crabs measuring between 4 ½ and 6 ½ inches wide with long, segmented legs.

7. Spiny Sand Crab

Spiny sand crab
Spiny sand crab | image by chilipossum via iNaturalist | CC BY 4.0

Scientific Name: Blepharipoda occidentalis

The spiny mole crab is a member of the sand crab family and is found in the eastern portion of the Pacific Ocean, including Central California. This crab is a scavenger that consumes the remains of other crabs. It grows up to 3 inches long and less than 2 inches wide, and has an oval-shaped body.

8. Fiddler Crab

Fiddler Crab
A fiddler Crab Sheila Shafer-Roberson from Pixabay

Scientific Name: Uca spp.

Fiddler crabs include more than 100 species that are found on muddy and sandy beaches of the Eastern Pacific, Western Atlantic, Indo-Pacific, and West Africa. The male of the species can be distinguished from other crabs thanks to having one claw that is much larger than the other.

The claws of the female fiddler crab are the same size. Fiddler crabs are rather small, with a shell that measures up to 2 inches long.

9. Masking Crab

Masking crab
Masking crab | image by Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Loxorhynchus crispatus

A type of spider crab, the masking crab is found from Humboldt County, California down to Baja California, Mexico. These crabs will decorate themselves with algae, sponges, and other materials that they find. These decorations help to camouflage or “mask” themselves, which makes it harder for predators to see them.

10. Brown Rock Crab

Brown rock crab
Brown rock crab | image by Ghost Fishing UK via Flickr

Scientific Name: Cancer pagurus

The brown rock crab, sometimes referred to as simply brown crab, is reddish brown in color with black-tipped claws. It’s shell looks similar to a pie crust thanks to its “pinched” edging. It measures between 5 and 7 inches wide, and is found throughout the western coast of North America. 

11. Purple Shore Crab

Purple shore crab
Purple shore crab | image by Don Henise via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Hemigrapsus nudus

As its name suggests, the purple shore crab typically has a purple shell, though it can range in color. It is not uncommon for this crab to have an olive or reddish brown hue to it. They are commonly found along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Alaska.

12. Blue Crab

Blue crab underwater
Blue crab underwater

Scientific NameCallinectes sapidus

The blue crab is one of the most sought after crabs, thanks to its tender and sweet meat. They are one of the most heavily fished crab species on the east coast, but are not as common on the west coast.

However, it has been spotted every so often in San Francisco Bay. Although it has not become established in California and is considered an invasive species

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