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All About the Hudson River’s Feisty (and Tasty) Blue Crab

Blue crabs can look backward, grow new limbs, and mate only once in their lives. Here's what is amazing about these "beautiful savory swimmers."

by Reed Sparling
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Blue crabs may not be as synonymous with the Hudson River as they are with Chesapeake Bay — but plenty of these colorful crustaceans live in the estuary’s brackish waters, with some even found as far north as the federal dam in Troy. In late June, female blue crabs will be on the move, seeking out mates. That’s step one in a dynamic process that will ensure future generations of these fascinating creatures. How fascinating? Check out some of our favorite facts. 

Pile of blue crabs found in New York. (Photo: Rebecca Houser / New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)

Female blue crabs, called “sallys,” are slightly smaller than the males (aka “jimmys”). As they grow, crabs periodically molt, shedding their thick outer shell. Over the course of their three- to four-year lifespan, sallys typically molt 18 to 20 times; jimmys, 21 to 23 times. It takes about 48 hours for the new shell to harden completely, so blue crabs must find a place to hide from fish, birds, and other predators when molting occurs.

The blue crab’s Latin name — Callinectes sapidus — means “beautiful savory swimmer.” This refers both to the tastiness of their meat and their facility at underwater propulsion. Dark green on top and white underneath, the “blue” in their name comes from the azure hue on the males’ front claws. (Females’ claws are tipped with red.)

Top view of blue crab found along the Hudson. (Photo: Hudson River Estuary Program)

Blue crabs have five pairs of legs. The front pair feature claws or pincers. The sharp bumps on one claw are good for tearing, while rounded bumps on the other help them keep hold of prey. Together, the two claws act as a knife and fork. The crabs’ back pair of legs sport paddles for swimming. They can rotate these paddles up to 40 times per minute, allowing them to reach speeds of over two miles per hour.

Perhaps the blue crab’s most amazing feat is that it can jettison a limb whenever it wants. If a predator chomps down on a leg, the crab simply releases it. Soon, it will start growing a new appendage.

Blue crabs are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and animals. Their diet includes mollusks, aquatic vegetation, live or dead fish, and even each other. Most of the year, crabs live a solitary existence because of their aggressiveness and propensity for cannibalism.

A baby blue crab. (Photo: Kate Phipps / Scenic Hudson)

A female blue crab mates only once in her life, usually between May and October. This process begins as she is about to molt for the last time. She will travel long distances — up to 125 miles in the Chesapeake Bay — to find a suitable mate. The male performs a courtship “dance,” standing upright and fanning out his claws and paddles, to prove his worthiness in protecting her. Once she molts, they mate. Afterward, the male will remain with the female, carrying her at times, and often forgoing food, until her shell hardens.    

Sallys wait up to nine months to fertilize their eggs. In the meantime, they store the male’s sperm in a special sac. Usually between May and August the following year, after they have migrated back to waters with higher salinity, they will release a sponge-like mass containing up to two million fertilized eggs. The mass will remain attached to each sally’s abdomen until the larvae emerge.

A child holds a blue crab. (Photo: Sven Klaschik)

Blue crabs’ eyes are located on stalks that allow them to look forward, backward, and to the side. When they’re hiding beneath the mud, the stalks act as periscopes. Crabs also have two sets of antennae that sense vibrations in the water, good for detecting both predators and prey. 

Along with herring, blue crabs are one of only two Hudson River species that can be caught and sold commercially. Longtime fishermen like John Mylod use traps, but as Edible Hudson Valley reports, “You can even tie a chicken leg to the end of a string” and be likely to snare one. State regulations limit the size and number that can be caught, while health advisories warn about consuming too many of them. Check out both prior to beginning a crab-catching adventure. 

A powerfully swimming blue crab. (Video: VA Institute of Marine Science)

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
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Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

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