Let’s Go On A Ghost Crab Hunt!

August 23, 2022

On the Currituck beaches, we share the shoreline with a variety of land and sea creatures. You know about our beautiful Wild Mustangs who play in the surf year-round, and in the spring and summer the sea turtles come to nest and increase their numbers. Look closer at the sand, and you’ll see evidence of other beach residents–namely small holes ornamented with little claw marks. That’s where you’ll find our ghost crabs.

If you’ve spent any time on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, odds are you’ve spotted one (or one hundred) of these little fellows. Shy, swift and sandy in color, these adorable natives of Currituck and Corolla regularly roam the beach, even though many of us don’t realize it. We won’t say they’re “crabby,” 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, and hiding from seagulls. After sundown, however, is when the ghost crabs truly come out to play, and stream across the beach like a tidal wave. This is the perfect time to return to the beach and watch these tiny critters in action.

Ghost crabbing is a popular nighttime activity for families visiting the Currituck Outer Banks. You need only a net, a flashlight, and a sense of adventure. Ghost crabbing is a simple hunt, catch, and release game that doesn’t hurt the crabs and allows all participants to enjoy these creatures up close.

In order to get the most out of your ghost crabbing play, here are a few tips to remember:

  • Wear dark clothing to blend with the night. You will need a bucket, a nylon net with a long handle, and a flashlight. Some local shops carry special kits called “Illuminets” which were created especially for this activity.
  • Wait until dusk when the crabs are most populous. Closer to the water, the younger crabs will move quickly. Adult ghost crabs tend not to stray as far from their homes and are more often found closer to the dune line.
  • Start off in “stealth mode” — turn your flashlight off and stay quiet, and you’ll hear them creeping around. It’s ideal to work in pairs. Have one person turn on their light and the other catch them as they run away.
  • When you shine a light on an exposed ghost crab, they will freeze for a few seconds. This is when you want to nab them with the net and put them in your buckets. Then you can watch them scatter and play with each other. Don’t forget to record video to enjoy later.
  • Most importantly, treat ghost crabs delicately throughout the process and release them gently once finished.

Even if you are not successful at catching any of these quick-clawed creatures, there’s nothing like the thrill of a ghost crab hunt. Children may run rampant over the sand, chasing the small crabs and shrieking with delight. It’s inexpensive and a great family bonding activity, and ghost crabs are plentiful on our beaches.

If you need some assistance or don’t have the time to pull together all the ghost crabbing tools for your family, Ghost Crab Quest is an Outer Banks ecotourism company that is more than happy to provide you with all the necessary skills and equipment to help you catch these little guys.

Looking for more fun, family activities and attractions in Corolla and Currituck County? Download our free mobile app for local specials and other updates happening in our area this summer and fall.