The Chinese mitten crab is one of the ocean's more fashionable invertebrates. With a sleek four-inch wide shell, a light brown-olive green color, and thick mats of hair on its pair of white-tipped claws, it seems odd that a looker like that would have environmental scientists so concerned.
But the mitten crab, native to East Asia, is slowly invading East Coast waters. It doesn't pose a physical threat, however, its squarely an ecological matter. Once established, the crab quickly reproduces and soon hundreds are clogging fishing equipment and power plant cooling systems. They can also out-compete local species, like the Maryland blue crab.
Fortunately, we haven't reached a high-level crab threat yet. Forty-four mitten crabs have been formally identified in the eastern United States since 2006. They were found primarily in the Chesapeake Bay, Delaware Bay, and more recently the Hudson River and New Jersey.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center are asking sharp-eyed beachgoers, fishermen and crabbers for help to capture and collect information about the invasive mitten crabs. "At this point we're trying to understand if they're here and what that might mean ecologically," scientist Gregory Ruiz recently told HometownAnnapolis.com.
Though, they're not the easiest crabs to locate. Mitten crabs live in both freshwater and saltwater, can burrow underground and are able to leave the water and walk around obstacles while migrating.
If you catch a mitten crab, do not throw it back alive. Note the precise location and date where the animal was found. Take a close-up photo of the crab and send it to SERCMittenCrab@si.edu. If possible, freeze the animal on ice, or preserve it in rubbing alcohol, and call The Mitten Crab Hotline at 443-482-2222.