Ready for some excited screams and shouts from your kids on vacation? Spend an evening ghost crab hunting for an experience you will never forget. A trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina would not be complete for my family without a late-night trip to the beach to hunt ghost crabs.
What are Ghost Crabs?
Atlantic ghost crabs are iridescent, sand-colored crabs that can be found on quiet beaches along the Atlantic coast. Generally around 2-inches in diameter, these small crabs are relatively harmless.
Related: 10 Fun Things to Do in the Outer Banks
Where can I find Ghost Crabs?
Reportedly found as far north as Bald Head, Rhode Island, and as a far south as Florida, ghost crabs are abundant along the Outer Banks and other East Coast beaches. Shy creatures, ghost crabs spend most of the day burrowed in the sand but come out in droves at night.
How to hunt Ghost Crabs
If your family is up for an adventure, all you need to hunt ghost crabs is a flashlight, a bucket, and a little courage. My children love wearing headlamp flashlights so their hands are free to catch the ghost crabs.
Head to the beach as soon as it gets dark. Shine your flashlight and watch them scamper across the sand. When a ghost crab is caught in a flashlight beam, they generally freeze for a few seconds before scampering away. This is a great time to snap a picture or surround the crab if the kids want to try catching one.
My children have discovered that the best way to catch a ghost crab is to toss a little sand on it, which helps it feel safe and reduces its likelihood of running off. Approach from behind the crab to avoid the pincers, and gently press your finger on the back of the crabs shell. Once you have it securely trapped in the sand, you can pick it up by the shell and place it in a large bucket.
If you do decide to catch ghost crabs, please make sure to enjoy them for a few minutes and then release them back to their natural habitat. Once we end up with a bucket of ghost crabs, our family loves to play “chicken” by standing in a circle and dumping the ghost crabs in the middle of everyone's feet and watching them scamper off.
If your family would like to catch ghost crabs without touching them, consider this inventive product called the ILLUMINET, which is a flashlight and net all wrapped up into one.
Hunting ghost crabs is a unique, memorable experience sure to bring squeals of delight (or terror, in the case of my three-year-old) and memories that last a lifetime.
How else can we help?
Packing List: Don't forget to bring batteries for your flashlights and headlamps and a bucket to collect the crabs!
Need a rental car? It's the best way to get around the Outer Banks. Find the best rates from dozens of agencies at RentalCars.com.
Need a place to stay? Renting a beach house is the best way to vacation at the Outer Banks. Check out my post 10 tips for finding vacation rentals for my tried and true methods for booking a great vacation home or condo.
I’m pretty sure my kids would love this!
We loved doing this!!
my favorite part is sneaking up behind the moms and kicking a little sand at their heels – the shrieks are well worth it 🙂
I can tell you for a fact that they are as far north As Old Orchard Beach Maine where I saw them last year on this date
That’s great! Sounds like family fun up and down the Atlantic coast. Thanks for the tip!
Can i eat a ghost crab?
That’s a good question! We have never eaten ghost crabs. After a quick search on this topic, it sounds like ghost crabs are edible, but most people won’t want to. They don’t have much meat.
Families are chasing scared living things? Is this a cruel joke? I live near the beaches and hope respect towards wildlife is encouraged.
Such a fun activity. We use red lights so that we don’t disturb sea turtles. The red lights also make for brighter star gazing. Amazing memories for our kids!
Red lights are a great idea. Thanks for the tip!
I don’t find that helpful because I already know how to do it but I just looked it up for fun and I catch way bigger ones than the ones in the pictures so yeah I catch them by myself without any help so bye
Sounds like you’re an expert. Any tips for first timers?
Can I find them in Jan/Feb in Gulf Shores? What does the temperature have to be
That’s a good question! I did a little “digging” on ghost crabs and learned that they can hibernate for up to six weeks at a time in cold weather. So it may be possible to see them during the winter, but much less likely than in the summer.
To learn more about ghost crabs, my source was the Padre Island National Seashore website: https://www.nps.gov/pais/learn/nature/ghost_crab.htm
I’m reading how taking this poor creatures from their habitat is “ such a family fun thing to do together” can we please just respect nature and watch it be without intruding or killing them ???