The Oregon Seal Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife  
ignore
 »ODFW Home    » Fish Division   » Marine Resources   » Shellfish   » Crab Identification
ignore
ignore
ignore
About Us Fishing Hunting Viewing License/Regs Conservation Living With Wildlife Education
ignore
ignore
Fish MARINE RESOURCES
Commercial and recreational marine fisheries
ignore
Crab Identification

Most common | Occasionally caught | Seldom caught | Exotic/ invasive | Shore | Nearshore | Deepwater

 Most common crabs to Oregon

Dungeness crab

Best identification characters:

  • White tipped claws
  • Ten carapace spines (widest at 10th)
  • Color reddish-brown to purple

About a Dungeness Crab


Red rock crab

Best identification characters:

  • Black tipped claws
  • Wide “fan” shaped carapace
  • Color typically a deep brick red

Red rock crabs, Cancer productus, are native to Oregon. They are often called "Japanese Crab"; a misnomer that may cause worry among recreational crabbers. Red rock crabs are in fact a native species found in the fossil record as well as in Native American middens. They are an important component of Oregon estuaries and nearshore areas, and even function as a steward to the estuary by predating on invasive species such as green crab (Carcinus maenas).

Red rock crab habitat
As the name implies red rock crab prefer the harder substrate habitats such as rocks, pilings, and other structure. Red rock crab prefer higher salinities than Dungeness crab and therefore are usually found in larger estuaries, close to the ocean. They are most common in Coos, Yaquina, and Tillamook. Photo

Colorful juveniles
As juveniles, red rock crab can be found in a wide variety of colors and patterns: photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4

A similar relative
The Pacific rock crab (Cancer antennarius) inhabits similar habitats as the red rock crab, however is more often found in the nearshore ocean. Occasionally, these crab are caught in the bay. They are easily discerned from red rock crab by their spotted undersides, brown/ purple color, and more haired legs. It's species name "antennarius" is Latin meaning "antennae" this refers to the noticeable larger antennae of this species when compared to other cancer crabs. Comparison photo


Pacific rock crab

Found: among rocky areas and pilings in the lower estuary. Very common in rocky nearshore ocean. Size 3-5"

Best identification characters:

  • Black tipped claws
  • Wide “fan” shaped carapace
  • Color typically a deep brick red

The Pacific rock crab (Cancer antennarius) inhabits similar habitats as the red rock crab, however is more often found in the nearshore ocean. Occasionally, these crab are caught in the bay. They are easily discerned from red rock crab by their spotted undersides, brown/ purple color, and more haired legs. It's species name "antennarius" is Latin meaning "antennae" this refers to the noticeable larger antennae of this species when compared to other cancer crabs. Comparison photo


 Occasionally caught crab

Northern Kelp crab

Found: Among rocky areas and pilings in the lower estuary. Very common among kelp in nearshore ocean areas. Size 2-4"

Best identification characteristics:

  • Large claws
  • “Shield-shaped” carapace
  • Long “spidery” legs
  • Underside often a deep red color

Kelp crab are in the Majidae or "Spider crab" family. Several species in this diverse family are excellent climbers, many are found in the complex habitats of the Oregon's rocky reefs. Northern kelp crab, may look like intimidating predators, but they are actually primarily kelp eaters. They are very common in the lower estuary and the nearshore ocean, particularly within kelp beds and around structure such as pilings. Occasionally, kelp crab are caught by recreational crabbers, often just because they will climb on crab line. Unlike the sand dwelling Dungeness crab, kelp crab are designed for climbing. This is apparent when looking at their rear legs which are rounded and feature a serrated edge on the dactyls (terminal segment of leg) that ease climbing on kelp and other structure. The same feature of a Dungeness crab shows the flattened shape that enables them to travel across soft bottomed areas very quickly.

 Shore crab

Black clawed crab

Found: among rocks and mud throughout the estuary. Size ¾-1¼ "


Purple shore crab

Found: among rocks in the lower estuary and tide pools. Size 1-2"

Best identification characteristics:

  • Purple / red spotted claws
  • Soft tissues on at base of claws
  • 3 spines on each side of carapace
  • Legs without hairs
  • occasionally green (photo)

Yellow shore crab

Found: among rocks and mud throughout the estuary. Size ¾-1½ "

Best identification characteristics:

  • usually mottled green/yellow with dark spots
  • occasionally variable coloring (white)
  • legs hairy

Striped shore crab

Found: among rocks and mud throughout the estuary. Size 1-2"

 

 Other crab found in the estuary, seldom caught

Graceful kelp crab

Found: Among rocky areas and pilings in the lower estuary. Very common among kelp in nearshore ocean areas. Size ¾-1½ "

Best identification characteristics:

  • Large claws
  • “Shield-shaped” carapace
  • Long “spidery” legs
  • Underside often a deep red color

Graceful crab

Found: infrequently in sandy areas in the estuary. Size 2-4"

Best identification characteristics:

  • White tipped claws
  • Widest at 9th carapace spine
  • Purplish legs
  • Smaller than adult Dungeness crab

Pygmy rock crab

Found: among rocky areas and pilings in the lower estuary. Very common in rocky nearshore ocean. Size 1-2"

Best identification characteristics:

  • Black tipped claws
  • Round carapace
  • Hairy legs
  • Small size

 Exotic/ invasive crab to Oregon

European green crab

Found: In the shallow areas of the mid to upper estuaries. Adult crab shell (carapace) width is 2-4". 
Best identification characteristics:

  • 3 bumps between eyes
  • 5 spines on each side of carapace

Color is variable, and not the best characteristic to identify green crab. Green crab can be green, black, or yellow on top of carapace and have white, yellow, orange, or reddish undersides and leg joints.

Green crab, Carcinus maenas, are an invasive species in Oregon. They can be a variety of colors. Most commonly they are greenish mixed with yellow, and often with red or orange color at their joints and abdomen. In Oregon, green crab typically inhabit shallow rocky areas of mildly salty waters in the mid to upper estuary. They may be restricted to these habitats in part by the native red rock crab, Cancer productus. Much like the familiar Dungeness crab, young green crab will more often be found higher in estuaries than adults. When green crabs try to cohabitate with red rock crab, adult green crab in the lower estuaries often become a food source for Dungeness and red rock.

Dungeness juv
Molting juvenile dungeness crab

Don't get oversold on color for identifying crab
The crab on the right is NOT a green crab. This is a juvenile Dungeness crab, which has just molted, the molt is the brown one in front and the live crab is the green one. Beachgoers often see large numbers of these newly molted and small "green" colored crab, which are in fact native Dungeness crab.

I found a green crab! Now what?
Occasionally, crabbers will catch a green crab. First, make sure you have a green crab – they are often mistaken for native shore crabs and small native red rock crab. Retain green crab caught in your gear - it is illegal to return them to state waters. The daily bag limit is 35 of any size or sex and is separate from other crab species. Try them as food with the rest of your catch. Do not mutilate or kill any crab while you are crabbing. Questions? Talk to an ODFW shellfish biologist at the Astoria, Newport, or Charleston office.


Harris mud crab

Found: Very high (intertidal) up in large bays (Coos, Yaquina), burrowed into mud or under rocks. Size ½-1 " If found: Bring in to local ODFW office.

Best identification characteristics:

  • Claws usually unequally sized
  • Notch between eyes NOT prominent
  • Four spines on each side of carapace
  • Small crab (<20 mm carapace with)

Chinese mitten crab

Found: Chinese mitten crab are currently NOT found in Oregon, if ever found it would most likely be in areas of high freshwater influence. If found: Bring in to local ODFW office.

Best identification characteristics:

  • Hairy claws
  • Notch between eyes
  • 4 spines on each side of carapace

 Selected nearshore ocean crab (intertidal to 250 feet deep)

Spiny lithode crab

Best identification characteristics:

  • Claws usually orange
  • Legs banded
  • Leg dactyls black
  • Body covered in spines and hairs

Butterfly crabButterfly crab

Best identification characteristics:

  • Rostrum flat or rounded
  • Crapace bumpy and rough
  • Stripe dividing carapace often evident
  • Legs wrinkly

 


cryptic kelp crabCryptic kelp crab

Best identification characteristics:

  • Claw tips white
  • Setae on rostrum, normally decorated
  • Lateral carapace teeth strongly curved and aimed forward

 


sharpnose crabSharpnose crab

Best identification characteristics:

  • Often covered in encrusting invertebrates
  • Rostrum is two short flat plates
  • Legs short and round

 

 

 Selected deepwater crab (250 feet and deeper)

spiny kingSpiny king crab

Best identification characteristics:

  • Three rows of paird spines anterior to forked rostrum

 

 


Oregon hair crab

Oregon hair crabBest identification characteristics:

  • Right claw often larger than the left
  • Carapace covered in shor spines
  • Long rounded legs
  • Short rostrum

 


Brown box crab

Best identification characteristics:

  • Respritory holes on lower claws
  • Three walking legs
  • Prominent spine on top of carapace
ignore
ignore
 


About Us | Fishing | Crabbing & Clamming | Big Game Hunting | Game Bird Hunting | Wildlife Viewing | License / Regs | Conservation | Living with Wildlife | Education | Workday Login

ODFW Home | Driving Directions | Employee Directory | Social Media | Oregon.gov | File Formats | Employee Webmail | ODFW License Agents

4034 Fairview Industrial Drive SE   ::   Salem, OR 97302   ::    Main Phone (503) 947-6000 or (800) 720-ODFW [6339]

Do you have a question or comment for ODFW? Contact ODFW's Public Service Representative at: odfw.info@odfw.oregon.gov
Share your opinion or comments on a Fish and Wildlife Commission issue at: odfw.commission@odfw.oregon.gov
Do you need this information in an alternative format or language? Contact 503-947-6042 or click here.





   © ODFW. All rights reserved. This page was last updated: 02/13/2024 11:08 AM