Tips for Ghost Crab Hunting along the Atlantic Coast

Posted By Katie on Jul 10, 2014

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Hey there!

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.

Have you tried ghost crab hunting? It's one of our family's favorite nighttime activities when we vacation on North Carolina's Outer Banks every year. It's an inexpensive catch and release activity that gets kids squealing with excitement! | | beach | travel | summer vacation

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.

ghost crab

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.

ghost crabs

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.

Looking for more ideas for a memorable family vacation in the Outer Banks?  Check out our tips for planning a trip to the Outer Banks, North Carolina.

ghost crab

How else can we help?

What supplies should you bring? 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. Compare rates for dozens of top agencies at

Need a place to stay? Renting a beach house is the best way to vacation at the Outer Banks. HomeAway is one of my favorite sites for finding vacation rentals. Check out my post 10 tips for finding vacation rentals for my tried and true methods for booking a great vacation home or condo.

Katie is a busy mom living in Northern Virginia with her husband and five children ranging in age from toddlers to teens. When she isn't traveling, she is planning her next trip. Katie loves all types of travel, but she especially loves beach vacations. The Outer Banks of North Carolina is a favorite family destination.


  1. my favorite part is sneaking up behind the moms and kicking a little sand at their heels – the shrieks are well worth it 🙂

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  2. 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

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    • That’s great! Sounds like family fun up and down the Atlantic coast. Thanks for the tip!

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