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Dungeness Crab 

The Dungeness Crab or Cancer magister got its common name from the town of Dungeness, Washington, now called Old Town Dungeness, where the first commercial harvesting of the crab was done. The Dungeness Crab was the first shellfish harvested commercially on the North Pacific Coast.

    The Dungeness Crab inhabits eel-grass beds and muddy to sandy bottoms, from the low inter-tidal zone to depths in excess of 600 ft. They range from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to south of San Francisco.  

    Dungeness crabs are crustaceans, a group of animals that also include shrimps,  lobsters, and prawns. Dungeness  have a brownish green carapace with an off-white to yellow colored under side. The crab possesses a pair of white-tipped claws with narrow tips and 4 pairs of walking legs.  The carapace of a Dungeness crab is roughly fan-shaped and relatively smooth compared to other crabs such as the  spiny Alaskan King Crabs.
    Male Dungeness crabs reach legal size at 3 or 4 years of age and weight about 2 to 3 pounds.  Dungeness crabs are estimated to have a life span of 8 to 13 years.


  While crabs measuring 10 inches across the back have been taken off the Oregon and Washington coast, they seldom exceed 8 inches and average just under 7 inches  across the width of the shell. The shell is a brownish  color, (turning it's trademark red when cooked) and the claws are white-tipped . The crab you see photographed below on this page is an anomaly - it's an albino. There is some coloring due to the preservation process but it was without color when landed.


    The Dungeness Crab eats a wide variety of marine forms. Stomachs of ocean crabs have been found to contain clams, fish, and crabs, as well as other items, including starfish, worms, squid, snails, and eggs from fish or crabs. The Dungeness Crab is also cannibalistic, a fact which has been observed in laboratories and borne out by examination of stomach contents.

    The Dungeness Crab is also eaten by quite a few creatures, including fish such as dogfish, hake, halibut, ling cod, and wolf eel. The crab is also a favorite food of the octopus and, of course, the human.

Life Cycle

    Dungeness crabs mate from spring to fall. The mating takes place between hard-bodied males and soft-bodied females that have just molted (shed their old shell to grow). A male may mate with many females. Females store the sperm until all the eggs are fully developed. A large female can carry 2.5 million eggs.

    After hatching, baby crabs are planktonic (planktons) and swim freely.  It takes from 4 months to 1 year and through 6 stages of transformations for a crab to reach the juvenile stage.

 Crabs grow by molting, which means shedding their old shell. Dungeness crabs molt several times during their first 2 years of life, with males and females growing at the same pace. After 2 years, moltings are reduced to once a year and females grow slower than males, resulting in the size difference between the sexes. During an annual molt, a Dungeness crab grow about 1 inch in width. Dungeness  are soft after molting and can be easily pierced, so they dig into the sand and hide for several days until their shells start to harden. An adult crab requires 2 to 3 months for its shell to completely harden and fill with meat. 

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