Ghost Crabbing on the Outer Banks: It’s scary fun!

October 22, 2014

By Currituck Outer Banks

Ghost Crabbing on the Outer BanksFilling your vacation schedule with daytime beach activities is not a difficult thing to do, especially on Currituck’s Outer Banks in North Carolina. Swimming, surfing, paddleboarding, taking a wild horse tour, or just plain relaxing can easily fill the sunlit hours of your family vacation. But what’s a family to do once the sun goes down? One of the most popular nighttime beach activities in Corolla, NC is something called ‘ghost crabbing.’ Ghost crabbing is a great for several reasons — it’s fun, it’s free, and it’s something the entire family can do together.

What exactly is a ghost crab?

Also known as sand crabs or beach crabs, ghost crabs are of the genus and species Ocypode quadrata (Ocypoda is Latin for “swift-footed”). Distinguishing features of ghost crabs include their stalked, oval-shaped eyes that can rotate 360 degrees to give them a view of everything around them. Sandy brown with white claws, ghost crabs only grow to a size of approximately three to four inches when fully grown. Ghost crabs love secluded beaches, which is why the northern Outer Banks areas between Corolla and Carova, North Carolina are a great place to find them.

Why the spooky name?

Ghost crabs received their moniker because they come out primarily at night and because of their ability to change colors in order to hide from would-be predators. They dig and hide in burrows up to four feet below the surface, enabling them to seemingly pop out of nowhere in ghostly fashion.

Sounds like fun! What gear do I need?

The Ghostbusters needed proton packs and ghost traps, but all you need for a night of ghastly fun is a flashlight, bucket, some beach chairs, and a quiet stretch of beach (not recommended for 4WD beach areas). Some people like to use glow sticks in order to keep track of everyone in their groups.

A nylon butterfly or fishing net is highly recommended for young children or anyone concerned about getting pinched — while their claws aren’t very big, the crabs can pinch hard enough to break the skin in very rare cases.

What time should I start?

Dusk is the best time to begin your ghost crabbing adventure since this is when they rise out of their subterranean homes and make their way to the ocean to wet their gills. Most people are amazed to see how many of these creatures come out after dark!

Set up your base of operations

Once you have all of your gear assembled, set up your “Ghost Crabbing Headquarters” in a centralized location on the beach. One thing to remember is that as you get closer to the water, the crabs will be smaller and faster. Adult ghost crabs tend not to stray as far from their homes and are more often found closer to the duneline.

Tips and techniques for catching ghost crabs

  • Use a small nylon net if possible, especially if you’re afraid of those claws!
  • Look for small holes in the soft sand above the high tide line (this is where they love to burrow).
  • Start off in “stealth mode” — turn your flashlight off and stay quiet (you’ll hear them creeping around).
  • Surprise! Turn on your flashlight intermittently and watch them scatter.
  • Work in pairs. Have one person turn on their light and the other catch them as they run away.
  • Treat ghost crabs delicately throughout the process and release them gently once finished.