California Beaches Taken Over by Tiny Red Crabs


As El Niño passes through southern California, lots of interesting things have been happening on the beaches, which were taken over by thousands of tiny red crabs on Sunday, June 14. The crabs are natives of the Baja Coast, so it is not unusual to find them on the shore, but the amount of crabs that have washed up has researchers wondering if the recent El Niño was the cause. The tiny red crabs were found on the shores of Laguna, Newport Beach, Salt Creek, San Clemente, Huntington Beach, and Strands Beach.

Mariners told sources that the tiny critters have beached before, but it has never been like what took place on Sunday. Marine Safety Lt. Michael Beuerlein told the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot, “the tiny crabs flopped onto the shore alive, and then they were dead.” According to lifeguards, some of the critters might be dead, but they will be washed back into the ocean.

The California beach take over of tiny red crabs have not been seen for decades, according to experts, and it has been happening more than usual this year. Residents told sources they noticed an orange line along the shore and when they got closer, it amazed them to discover that they were tiny crabs. The crabs are usually mistaken for baby lobsters, and when they hit the sand, their life cycle ends very quickly.

The tiny red crabs belong to the crustaceans group, are scientifically named Pleuroncodes planipes, and are known as red crabs or tuna crabs. The crustaceans are about one to three inches in length, and they often appear during El Niño years because they are forced to venture north towards warm waters. The crabs are harmless towards humans, moving with the ocean currents and inshore occasionally.

The San Pedro-based Southern California Marine Institutes director told sources, “the crabs travel in large schools and they wash up on the shores of California beaches sometimes.” The La Jolla, California, Birch Aquarium education manager, Charina Layman, stated, “the crabs often hang with tuna, and the tuna enjoy eating them.”

The crabs spend most of their time hiding on sandy bottoms of California beaches. This is not the first time they appeared on the beaches in 2015 – they also washed ashore in January. California Pondella II, director of the Southern California Marine Institute told sources,” the crabs coming to shore is probably just a sign of the warm waters the beaches are currently experiencing.”

Marine Protection stated the crabs are a part of nature, and it might be bad that they have washed up on shore, but the shorebirds are going to have a great time because they eat the crabs, too. In Newport Beach, people who were visiting saw the washed-up crabs as an opportunity to catch dinner for the night. They collected crabs and told sources they were going to cook them later on. One of the crab collectors stated, “they were pretty salty.”

Although California beaches have been taken over by tiny red crabs more than usual this year, it is not the only thing that has been, surprisingly, washing up on shores, according to scientists.  Researchers have also seen tropical fish such as yellow tail and blue fin tuna, and blue, jelly-looking fish known as By The Wind Sailors washing up on the shores of California beaches earlier than normal.

By Krystle Mitchell


Los Angeles Times: Thousands of tiny red crabs invade Beaches in Southern California
Orange County Register: Red Crabs Blanket Orange County Beached
KTLA5: Thousands of Tiny Red Crabs Wash up on So Cal Beaches
Photo Courtesy of Christine Riggle’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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