All These Crabs Are Making Me Itch


Land Crab Hole

I’m about to say something — words that I never thought would come from my mouth. Ever. It’s the stuff of whispered gossip and scribbled comments on bathroom walls.

I . . . have . . . crabs. Or rather, my lawn does.

Joe first told me about our crab infestation months ago, but I didn’t — wouldn’t — couldn’t — believe him. Sure, our lawn might not be the neatest in the neighborhood and sometimes a little overgrown, but land crabs? I’m not one to talk about the neighbors, but there are some pretty nasty lawns out there –and they’re all crab-free!

Joe eventually managed to snap a photo of a crab — from a distance — since I hadn’t seen any, but I couldn’t imagine crabs munching on our grass. The crabs had become our Big Foot, and this photo was our only proof of their existence.

That small, dark lump on the dock, near the center of the photo, is a crab.

That small, dark lump on the dock, near the center of the screen, is a crab.

Why shouldn’t I be doubtful?   My previous and only lawn menace had been grubs, and a mole helped to keep that population in check. Lawn crabs, on the other hand, sounded much larger than grubs — could you imagine the size of the animal capable of keeping them in check?

There are about nine iguanas that munch their way across my backyard, but they’re vegetarian and more interested in chewing on my hairy beggarticks than my crabs. Where have all the carnivorous garden creatures gone? Perhaps, I can get a small alligator over here to tidy things up.

Nevertheless, I approached my crab situation with a smile. The idea of my lawn having crabs has more punch lines than my yard has crab holes.

Then, I turned to the Internet and land crabs became a lot more serious than I had originally considered. There were numerous forums in which users wished “good luck” to anyone dealing with a crab crisis. The suggested remedy was napalm. Isn’t there — I don’t know — a medicated lawn shampoo that I could apply?

My answers, in time, came from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences website.

The Blue Land Crab, or Cardisoma guanhumi, is a semi-terrestrial crab, common in Bermuda, the Caribbean, Texas, and south Florida.  This edible crab is usually found within five miles of the coast.  Adult land crabs return to the ocean only to drink or breed, with peak reproductive activity occurring during the summer’s full moons. Yes, these crabs are romantic and the sea is their own singles bar.

Other than that, these vegetarians dwell on land, living in tunnels five-feet deep.

This is where the infestation can cause a problem. Although I do not currently have a garden, some day I will. Do I really want to plant a smorgasbord for crabs? I’ve also noticed the tunnel openings on the yard side of the sea wall. There is usually a debris field to the side of the hole, the stuff that the crab removed while it dug down. An ankle could certainly be twisted if one should be careless and step in a hole, but I wonder if the tunnel’s depth could be detrimental to the wall itself.

Because no chemicals — and I assume this includes napalm — are registered for land crab control, the University’s website (and law, by the way) recommends catching the crabs by hand or with a net. Due to concerns about dwindling populations, though, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has limited the land crab harvest to no more than 20 per day and to only do this during the open season, which runs from November 1 to June 30.

In other words, my window for action is closing.

As I said earlier, I’ve never seen a crab. There’s only that one photo, the tunnel openings with their debris fields, and Joe’s first-person observations — the most recent of which occurred the other day. He came into the house, quite excited, and said he just saw a crab dipping down into its tunnel.

I became vigilant. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I used a fine-toothed rake to comb my lawn for crabs, but I did do a daily examination. Several times a day, I quietly tip-toed out to the most active tunnel and peered down. Nothing.

Courtesy of away.co.uk.

Courtesy of away.co.uk.

It was at these times that my imagination and too much childhood television reminded me of the 1953 sci-fi classic, Invaders From Mars, in which a boy witnesses a UFO descending and disappearing into a sandpit near his home. As people approach the sandpit, they are sucked downward into a series of tunnels where the aliens implant mind-control crystals at the base of their skulls.

I wondered — for a second — what if it wasn’t a crab in that hole? What if it was larger? This is South Florida and things seem to be bigger here. What if it jumped out at me? What if it grabbed hold of me and dragged me into the depths of its tunnel?

In the film, the military was brought in to save the day. I don’t think I need the military — yet — but how can I catch something I’ve never seen?

And then I had my answer. A grouping of legs — very alien-like, by the way — near the tunnel opening. As I moved closer, they scurried downward.

Land Crab

I have seen the enemy and it is a crab. Now what do I do? Catch and release? Catch and eat? Go all medieval and pour boiling water down the hole and invite the neighbors over for a one-crab feast? Or simply hope that my crab will hear the mating call in a few weeks and head out to sea for a moonlit date?

I admit that it’s all a bit perplexing and I’m left scratching my head — or could that the result of all this crab talk?

30 thoughts on “All These Crabs Are Making Me Itch

      • I will not touch that one with a ten foot pole! Hey did you read my last blog post? I just found out I am 50% Jewish. It would have been nice if I was told that before reaching my 50’s! In any regard I guess my ancestors were running. I am glad they ran or I would not have been here…I just wish I knew more of my story…

  1. I think I saw these crabs when we were in Costa Rica, they were all over the hotel garden, they were blue and beautiful, maybe you can make tags on a stick to mark each hole to make sure you don’t step into one ? 😀 what is the worst they can do ?, be glad they are not monkeys ! 😀

    • Hi Gwennie. I’m glad they’re not monkeys — because I’ve seen a wild group of monkeys down here, wandering around what’s left of an out-of-business palm tree farm. As for my crabs . . . my concern is the network of tunnels. I’m not sure how they zig and zag and if they can undermine the sea wall.

  2. I guess every region has their garden nemesis. I never heard of land crabs like this, it must have surprised you too. Funny story. You do need a watch gator. Up here, my friend is battling chipmunks, catching them and releasing them on park lands. I had her bring me one for my yard. I lost my little buddy, Chipper, a few years ago to a hawk. I watched him fly away screaming and kicking. I was devastated. So I got Chipper 2 and the little bugger ran away. Oh well. I have a post on chipmunks as a consolation.

    • Hi Donna. I cannot imagine the horror of watching your chipmunk being carried away! That’s part of why I’m reluctant to catch the crab — I don’t want to be the one to drop it in the pot of boiling water. When we started gardening, no one ever told us about the pitfalls — and crab tunnels!

  3. I would keep asking old-timers in the area what they do. If they’re edible (desirable enough to have a season and quota), someone must have tips on the best ways to catch them. And perhaps they really do disappear into the water for a good part of the year and you can garden accordingly. Is is certain that they always come back to the same year? Maybe your next-door neighbor will get them next year.

    • Hi Cindy. I keep talking about my crab situation with the neighbors — and no one seems to have a problem. I think part of the problem is that while work was being done on my house, there was very little disturbance to the yard — and in crab language, I think that meant safety. It’s why I also think so many iguanas feast in my yard. There’s a good chance this will all change when I eventually turn my attention to the landscape.

  4. Your southern roots should have you preparing a large pot of water with some crab boil seasoning and potatoes and corn right about now!!! I’d try to find out the best way to lure those little invaders out of their tunnels and into that pot! Enjoy the feast!!!

    • Hi Aunt Pat. I don’t want to be the one to drop the crab in the pot of water. I don’t think my roots run that deeply! Besides, with only one crab, I may have to call for take out. 🙂

  5. This is an amazing story, Kevin! I’ve never heard of land crabs, first and foremost, and I imagine the conversation between you and Joe as he gave first person account and you were certainly dubious. It makes me think of the land shark bit on Saturday Night Live. Are they edible? That would be at least one benefit if you could capture, but other than that, I’ll stop complaining about Darwin’s destructive habits in my succulents. At least I can see him! Oh do keep us aware of your progress in this area. It is so unusual. Would a cat help? What a puzzle!

    • Hi Debra. That SNL skit was the first think I thought of!! They are edible and many people — even down here — have never heard of them. But I assure them that the crabs are real! I’m not sure a cat would help — I’m trying to figure out a way to lure it out of its tunnel. Of all the crabs in the all the world, I have the shyest! 🙂

      • You have no idea how much you made me smile. My cousins and I used to catch blue crabs in the shallows while the older people went clamming in the deeper water. I think trying to catch them would be so much fun. Although, it would probably be funnier watching me try. 😉

    • Hi Plumdirt. I understand that a female can release tens of thousands of eggs — most of which won’t make it. I’m not sure if I have a male or a female crab — or even how many there might be. I do know that I have never seen one completely outside of its tunnel — and if it’s near the opening, it scurries downward at my appearance.

  6. Very funny! And you have a great sense of humor! I’d catch and eat – definitely. Buy a couple nice bottles of white wine and get the pot boiling!… But on a more practical note, what about a dog? They’d probably root them out in a few days.

    • Hi Extravagant Gardens. I had to smile at your suggestion of a dog. I have a dog — but she’s more like a four-legged paper weight with hair. I think that she would bark at the crab if she saw it — and then back away at the first nip of the claw. 🙂

  7. I’ll swap you squirrels for the crabs. Good eating plus good bait and they won’t eat my fruit trees or my bulbs. Win,win, situation.
    Dad

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