Florida stone crab

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Florida stone crab
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Arthropoda
Subphylum:Crustacea
Class:Malacostraca
Order:Decapoda
Infraorder:Brachyura
Family:Menippidae
Genus:Menippe
Species:M. mercenaria
Binomial name
Menippe mercenaria
(Say, 1818)
 
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Florida stone crab
Scientific classification
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Arthropoda
Subphylum:Crustacea
Class:Malacostraca
Order:Decapoda
Infraorder:Brachyura
Family:Menippidae
Genus:Menippe
Species:M. mercenaria
Binomial name
Menippe mercenaria
(Say, 1818)

The Florida stone crab, Menippe mercenaria, is a crab found in the western North Atlantic, from Connecticut to Belize, including Texas, the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba and the Bahamas that is widely caught for food. The closely related species Menippe adina (gulf stone crab) is sometimes considered a subspecies – they can interbreed, forming hybrids – and they are treated as one species for commercial fishing, with their ranges partly overlapping. The two species are believed to have diverged approximately 3 million years ago.[1]

Description[edit]

The stone crab's carapace is 5 to 6.5 inches (130 to 170 mm) wide.[2] They are brownish red with gray spots and a tan underside, and have large and unequally-sized chelae (claws) with black tips.[3] In addition to the usual sexual dimorphism exhibited by crabs, the female Florida stone crabs have a larger carapace than males of a similar age, and males generally have larger chelae than females.[3]

Eating Habits[edit]

Florida stone crabs prefer to feed on oysters and other small mollusks, polychaete worms, and other crustaceans. They will also occasionally eat seagrass and carrion. Predators that feed on stone crabs include horse conch, grouper, sea turtles, cobia, octopuses, and humans.[4]

Reproduction[edit]

Females reach sexual maturity at about two years of age.[3] Their long spawning season lasts all spring and summer, during which time females produce up to a million eggs.[3] The larvae go through six stages in about four weeks before emerging as juvenile crabs. Their lifespan is seven to eight years.[3] The male Florida stone crab must wait for the female to molt her exoskeleton before they can mate.[3] After mating, the male will stay to help protect the female for several hours to several days. The female will spawn four to six times each season.

Molting[edit]

The Florida stone crab loses its limbs easily to escape from predators or tight spaces, but their limbs will grow back. When a claw is broken such that the diaphragm at the body/claw joint is left intact, the wound will quickly heal itself and very little blood is lost. If, however, the claw is broken in the wrong place, more blood is lost and the crab's chances of survival are much lower. Each time the crab molts, the new claw grows larger.

The crab only molts at night or in night-like conditions due to the crab being extremely vulnerable to predators without the protection of its shell. If the crab is becoming too large for its shell and the sun is up, the crab releases a hormone from a gland located on one of their eye stalks called the x-organ. This hormone prevents the crab from molting from its shell until it finds a safe place to molt or it has become dark enough outside to molt in safety.

Fishery[edit]

Prepared Florida stone crab claws

The Florida stone crab is usually fished near jetties, oyster reefs or other rocky areas, just as for blue crabs. The bodies of these crabs are relatively small and so are rarely eaten, but the claws (chelae), which are large and strong enough to break an oyster's shell, are considered a delicacy. Harvesting is accomplished by removing one or both claws from the live animal and returning it to the ocean where it can regrow the lost limb(s). To be kept, claws must be 2.75 inches (70 mm) long, measured from the tips of the immovable finger to the first joint. Mortality rates for declawed crabs are unknown; 20% of landed claws are regrown,[5] while mortality rates of 47% for doubly-amputated crabs and 28% for single amputees have been observed experimentally.[6]

Florida stone crabs are legal for harvest from October 15 until May 15.[7] The catch varies from year to year, ranging between 2.0 and 3.5 million in the period 1982–2009, overwhelmingly from the Gulf coast (as opposed to Atlantic coast).[5] This is believed to be the maximum amount possible, given current environmental conditions, regulations, and practices. The fishery is clearly overfished, with the number of traps tripling between 1989-90 and 2009-10 without haul increasing (hence having a very low catch-per-trap level). However, due to fisheries management, the haul is believed to be stable, as sufficient spawning happens.

Claws are sold by size, generally in four sizes: medium, large, jumbo, and colossal.

The top buyer of stone crab claws is Joe's Stone Crab in Miami, and it plays a significant role in the industry, influencing the wholesale price and financing many crabbers.[8] The Monterey Bay Aquarium has given the Florida stone crab fishery its highest rating of "Best Choice" for maintaining high fishing standards and working hard to keep the stone crab a viable fishery.[9]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]