Each year, over a million pounds of Dungeness crab is caught and consumed here in the Salish Sea. Most everyone knows how to catch, cook and eat this tasty crustacean – we use the third and fourth feet for the meat picks – no metal, please. Yet few know the details of a crab’s life – so here goes. They were named after Dungeness, Washington near Sequim on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, where the first Northwest commercial crab fishery began. Like most creatures with external skeletons, they must shed their hard shells as they grow larger. By carefully backing out of their shells, they moult between May and August, and mating occurs immediately afterwards before the new exoskeleton hardens on the females. This happens when the male begins a physical embrace with the female that lasts for days. With the female tucked underneath the male and oriented so that their abdomens touch, heads facing each other, the ‘love-making’ begins. Try to picture this. I’ll bet you can’t and not smile.
Ah, but life goes on, and several months later the female ‘lays’ her eggs, possibly up to 2.5 million of them. Completely helpless, they remain attached under her abdomen for 3 to 5 more months until they hatch. Then the free-swimming young crabs go through 5 larval stages and about 10 molts over the next 2 years. Male Dungeness crabs reach legal catch size at 3 or 4 years of age, at which time they weight 2 or 3 pounds. They may live for 13 years.
Larry Eifert paints and writes about wild places. His work is in many national parks across America – and at larryeifert.com