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Ghost Crabs on the Outer Banks

You’re sitting on the soft sand, warm sunshine enveloping your skin, a cool breeze combing through your hair. As you recline upon your towel, sunglasses shading your eyes, you spot a quick movement just to the left. You turn your head, lower your shades and narrow your eyes at the patch of sand you could have sworn just moved.

After several long moments of careful scrutiny, it happens again. Only this time, you’re prepared. Another almost imperceptible movement, a twitch, and two tiny black eyes stare back at you, unblinking and unmoving:

A ghost crab.

You laugh, and the tiny creature is gone, vanished in a flurry of flying sand. Closer inspection will reveal a small hole in the sand, ornamented with little claw marks. If you’ve ever spent any time on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, odds are good that you’ve spotted one (or one hundred) of these little fellows. Shy, swift and sandy in color, these adorable natives of Currituck and Corolla share the beach with us each year, even though many of us don’t realize it. We’re not going to say they’re “crabby” per say, but these little guys are certainly not social.

You may see them at any time of day, scuttling and scurrying across the sand with great purpose, battling each other over the best sand holes and scraps of abandoned picnics, hiding from seagulls. They are always busy, these crabby beach-goers, and always shy. At night, the shores belong to the ghost crabs. After the sun goes down and the tide comes in, waves of pale, sandy crabs stream across the beach like a tidal wave.

Ghost crabbing is a new trend amongst visitors to the shores of the Outer Banks, thanks to the recent invention of “Illuminets.” Families throng to the beaches at night, armed with colorful, plastic nets. The unique and clever twist on these crabbing nets is that they come complete with small waterproof flashlight affixed to the handle’s shaft.

Be sure to wear darker clothing and bring a bucket and a camera. Of all the things to do in the Outer Banks, North Carolina, this is one of the easiest and most fun, and it doesn’t cost a dime. Find a quiet, dark beach and unleash your family upon the local crab population. Children may run rampant over the sand, chasing the small crabs and shrieking with delight. Transfixed by the sudden bright light, the nocturnal ghost crabs often freeze for a moment when spotted, before darting away as usual.

The Illuminets were invented by a family visiting the Outer Banks, and have been a huge hit. There are many aspects to this fun vacation activity that make it a great go-to for any group, including that it is free, harmless (the crabs are notoriously difficult to catch and too small to do much damage if captured) and especially fun for all members of the family, old or young.

Bring your family to Currituck, Corolla or any of the other alluring links of the Outer Banks chain of islands. There is no shortage of things to do, and there are plenty of ghost crabs to go around.