Do you ever wonder what those holes are along the beach? Perhaps you've seen something quickly scuttling back inside before you can identify it. These holes are likely the homes of a nocturnal creature called the Atlantic Ghost Crab.
Ghost crabs, commonly called a sand crabs, make their home on the beaches we love to enjoy during the summer time along the Eastern Shore. The ghost crabs burrows are often built in locations ranging from the water's edge to about 100 feet from the water. The distance of the burrow is associated with the age of the crab. These burrows are important as they function as shelter from the harsh sun.
Burrows can be up to four feet deep and can be anywhere along the coastal beach.
Ghost Crabs have been fossilized in rocks dating back 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago.
Ghost crabs are relatively common on beaches like Assateague National Seashore, but they, like many other coastal creatures, are threatened by human impacts. One of the main threats to ghost crabs are off-road vehicles (ORVs). Driving out on the beach, ORVs can crush crabs and destroy their burrows, interfering with their reproductive cycle. ORVs greatly affect ghost crabs at night when they are feeding. Another threat to the species is a decline in their habitat. Construction along beaches, be it for residential or commercial use, can cause increased mortality and a potential decline in populations.
In order to preserve coastal species like the ghost crab, humans need to make concerted efforts to limit habitat destruction in these already vulnerable areas. Some beaches have adopted boardwalks which allow people to get closer to the water while lessening their impact on the supralittoral zone.
Based on an experiment done by one of the students the Ghost Crab ate about three bivalves in one minute. If the ghost crab continued to feed with that consistency, in 2 hours he might consume 360 bivalves - that is one big appetite!
Ghost crabs are important to our environment as they keep other organisms in check preventing
overpopulation. If you are lucky enough to catch one, be careful, they still give a mighty pinch!