13 Oct 2022
One of the qualities of the Outer Banks that makes it so great is that there are plenty of activities for visitors of all ages and all interests. Whether you’re into watersports adventures, beachcombing for the perfect shell, or sampling all the fresh seafood you can find, the Outer Banks has you covered! You've definitely heard of crabbing, but one unique activity that has become very popular among families is ghost crabbing… but what exactly is ghost crabbing?
What are Ghost Crabs?
Ghost Crabbing is very similar to beachcombing except instead of looking for seashells, you’re looking for ghost crabs. You may have also heard this activity referred to as “hunting for ghost crabs” or “ghost crab hunting.” Atlantic Ghost Crabs (Ocypode quadrata) live in the coastal areas of the East Coast in North America, Latin America and South America. They can be found as far north as Rhode Island all the way down to Brazil but there are plenty to be found on the Outer Banks beaches. These small critters survive and get by with digging small burrows all over the beach.
Ghost crabs have eight legs (four pairs) and two claws. Although they range in size, they are fairly small, usually around 2-inches long. Ghost crabs are a sandy brown or light gray color with the ability to blend their shade in with their surroundings. The species is not currently considered threatened or endangered.
Spotting Ghost Crabs
Have you ever seen people walking along the shore at night with flash lights? They were probably ghost crabbing! It isn’t uncommon to spot ghost crabs darting along sand burrows during the day so you may have encountered ghost crabs while you were set up on the beach. However, ghost crabs are scavengers who feed at night when they are more hidden from predators like seagulls and other shorebirds. This is why ghost crabbing occurs once the sun goes down.
Although the term “crabbing” usually refers to harvesting or fishing for Blue Crabs, the term does not mean the same thing in the case with ghost crabs. The phrase “hunting” is also arbitrary—ghost crabs are not harvested for consumption. Instead, the sport of ghost crabbing, or hunting for ghost crabs, is simply looking for/seeking out the scurrying creatures (the same way you would “hunt” for a bargain)! This activity is particularly fun for kids who will absolutely love watching the crabs run around in the dark of night.
Ghost Crabbing Tips
Although you need a few simple supplies, ghost crabbing is generally a cost-free activity that the whole family will love! Ghost crabbing can be done on any of our beaches on any day of the week at any time of the year, though the best time to find ghost crabs is during the summer months from May through to October.
- Here’s what you’ll need: a flashlight—that’s it!
- Headlamps work great for kids so you don’t have to worry about losing the flashlight.
- Try to go out on a clear night with lots of stars to give you extra light making the crabs easier to spot.
- Just remind the kids to be very, very quiet and consider wearing darker clothing. You don’t want to spook the ghost crabs.
- Simply shine the light beam across the sand and when you spot one, try to follow it’s track with the light and see where it goes! You can also try to see who can spot the most—kids will love the simple game!
- To find the most ghost crabs, try to pick a spot on the beach away from other people. It’s also a good idea to pick a beach without off-road vehicles. Lots of activity may keep the crabs in hiding.
- Walk along between the tide lines and look for holes in the sand—the entrance to their burrows.
Be patient and you may spot a crab crawling out!
Ghost Crabbing Etiquette
You should never poke them, pick them up, or hurt them in any way. Ghost crabs also can and will pinch if they feel threatened. If you want to get a closer look, have your camera ready as soon as your light hits them. Like a deer in the headlights, ghost crabs will freeze temporarily giving your kids plenty of tim to look! Some ghost crabbers even choose to scoop them in a net and put them in a bucket for a closer look—just remember release them within a couple minutes and let them be on their way!
Book your family Outer Banks vacation today!
Hunting for ghost crabs is a fun, free, and simple activity that you can do with the entire family! Check our list of 10 Inexpensive Outer Banks Vacation Activities for even more ideas and check out our available rentals to find the perfect beach house for your next stay on the OBX. It's never too late to book your ultimate Outer Banks vacation, so why not book your next vacation today?
Make memories that will last a lifetime on the beautiful Outer Banks.
About the Author: Lauren is a mom, author, and travel enthusiast. She grew up on the Outer Banks and only left for a few years to get her degree at UNC-Chapel Hill and complete a tour in the Coast Guard before making her way back to the beach in 2017. When she isn’t writing for the Seaside Vacations Travel Blog, Lauren can usually be found with a book and cup of tea in hand, planning her next travel adventure.