Lady Crab

Calico Crab, Sand Crab

Ovalipes ocellatus

Color: White to yellowish grey, with reddish purple mottled spots over entire body and claws.

Size: 2 to 4 inches wide, 1 to 2 inches from head to tail.                     

Habitat: Throughout the Bay, on sandy or muddy bottoms, often in shallow waters.

Seasonal Appearance: All year.

Sensitivity to Human Action                                           






Distinguishing Features and Behaviors:

     The lady crab, or calico crab, is a brightly colored, aggressive, swimming crab. In the water and under direct sunlight, this crab’s coloring appears iridescent. The species is called the lady crab because of the beautiful color patterns on the shell, although there are male lady crabs as well as females. The sharp, powerful pinchers are whitish in color with purple-spotted tips and jagged teeth. The last pair of legs are modified into paddles and are adapted to help the lady crab swim through the water. Three sharp points are present between the eye sockets of the lady crab, as well as five sharp points along the carapace that turn toward the eye sockets. The number of points along the carapace helps to distinguish this crab from the similar-looking blue crab.

     Lady crabs are known for their aggressive disposition and sharp claws. This crab is often seen partially buried in sand with only its eyestalks protruding. When it sees prey, the lady crab will dart out of its hiding place using its powerful paddles to swim after its prey. Like most other crabs, lady crabs are scavengers, eating both dead and live fish, crabs, and other invertebrates. They can rapidly consume seed clams and prey upon hard clams. They are preyed upon by oyster toadfish, tautog, striped bass, lobsters, and other crabs.

     The tail of this crab is tucked underneath the body and lies against the abdomen. The tail of the female lady crab is shaped like a rounded triangle, while the tail of the male is pointed and narrow. Female crabs use the tail to cover their eggs. Young cabs hatch in the early summer months, beginning their lives as zooplankton; they will settle to the bottom by early fall.

Relationship to People:

     Lady crabs are migratory within the Bay, and at certain times of the year they make up a large proportion of the Bay’s overall crab population. The lady crab will come close to the shore with the tide and is most often the crab that pinches bathers’ toes at Bay beaches. The meat of lady crabs is not considered as tasty as that of other Bay crabs, and they are not harvested commercially.