King crab

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King crabs
Paralithodes californiensis
Scientific classification
Samouelle, 1819
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King crabs
Paralithodes californiensis
Scientific classification
Samouelle, 1819

King crabs, also called stone crabs, are a superfamily of crab-like decapod crustaceans chiefly found in cold seas. Because of their large size and the taste of their meat, many species are widely caught and sold as food, the most common being the red king crab, Paralithodes camtschaticus.

King crabs are generally thought to be derived from hermit crab-like ancestors, which may explain the asymmetry still found in the adult forms. Although some doubt still exists about this theory, king crabs are the most widely quoted example of carcinisation among the Decapoda. The evidence for this explanation comes from the asymmetry of the king crab's abdomen, which is thought to reflect the asymmetry of hermit crabs, which must fit into a spiral shell. Although formerly classified among the hermit crabs in the superfamily Paguroidea, king crabs are now placed in a separate superfamily, Lithodoidea.[1]


Around 121 species are known, in 10 genera:[2]

  • Cryptolithodes Brandt, 1848
  • Glyptolithodes Faxon, 1895
    • Glyptolithodes cristatipes (Faxon, 1893)
  • Lithodes Latreille, 1806
    • Lithodes aequispinus J. E. Benedict, 1895 – golden king crab
    • Lithodes aotearoa Ahyong, 2010
    • Lithodes australiensis Ahyong, 2010
    • Lithodes ceramensis Takeda & Nagai, 2004
    • Lithodes chaddertoni Ahyong, 2010
    • Lithodes confundens Macpherson, 1988
    • Lithodes couesi J. E. Benedict, 1895 – scarlet king crab
    • Lithodes ferox Filhol, 1885
    • Lithodes formosae Ahyong & Chan, 2010
    • Lithodes galapagensis Hall & Thatje, 2009
    • Lithodes jessica Ahyong, 2010
    • Lithodes longispina Sakai, 1971
    • Lithodes macquariae Ahyong, 2010
    • Lithodes maja (Linnaeus, 1758) – Norway king crab
    • Lithodes mamillifer Macpherson, 1988d
    • Lithodes mandtii
    • Lithodes manningi Macpherson, 1988
    • Lithodes megacantha Macpherson, 1991
    • Lithodes murrayi Henderson, 1888
    • Lithodes nintokuae Sakai, 1976
    • Lithodes panamensis Faxon, 1893
    • Lithodes paulayi Macpherson & Chan, 2008
    • Lithodes rachelae Ahyong, 2010
    • Lithodes richeri Macpherson, 1990
    • Lithodes robertsoni Ahyong, 2010
    • Lithodes santolla (Molina, 1782) – Chilean centolla or Chilean king crab
    • Lithodes turkayi Macpherson, 1988
    • Lithodes turritus Ortmann, 1892
    • Lithodes unicornis Macpherson, 1984
    • Lithodes wiracocha Haig, 1974
  • Lopholithodes Brandt, 1848
  • Neolithodes A. Milne-Edwards & Bouvier, 1894
    • Neolithodes agassizii (S. I. Smith, 1882)
    • Neolithodes asperrimus Barnard, 1947
    • Neolithodes brodiei Dawson & Yaldwyn, 1970
    • Neolithodes bronwynae Ahyong, 2010
    • Neolithodes capensis Stebbing, 1905
    • Neolithodes diomedeae (J. E. Benedict, 1895)
    • Neolithodes duhameli Macpherson, 2004
    • Neolithodes flindersi Ahyong, 2010
    • Neolithodes grimaldii (A. Milne-Edwards & Bouvier, 1894)
    • Neolithodes nipponensis Sakai, 1971
    • Neolithodes vinogradovi Macpherson, 1988
    • Neolithodes yaldwyni Ahyong & Dawson, 2006
  • Paralithodes Brandt, 1848
  • Paralomis White, 1856
    • Paralomis aculeata Henderson, 1888
    • Paralomis africana Macpherson, 1982
    • Paralomis alcockiana Hall & Thatje, 2009
    • Paralomis anamerae Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis arae Macpherson, 2001
    • Paralomis arethusa Macpherson, 1994
    • Paralomis aspera Faxon, 1893
    • Paralomis birsteini Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis bouvieri Hansen, 1908
    • Paralomis ceres Macpherson, 1989
    • Paralomis chilensis Andrade, 1980
    • Paralomis cristata Takeda & Ohta, 1979
    • Paralomis cristulata Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis cubensis Chace, 1939
    • Paralomis danida Takeda & Bussarawit, 2007
    • Paralomis dawsoni Macpherson, 2001
    • Paralomis diomedeae (Faxon, 1893)
    • Paralomis dofleini Balss, 1911
    • Paralomis echidna Ahyong, 2010
    • Paralomis elongata Spiridonov, Türkay, Arntz & Thatje, 2006
    • Paralomis erinacea Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis formosa Henderson, 1888
    • Paralomis gowlettholmes Ahyong, 2010
    • Paralomis granulosa (Hombron & Jacquinot, 1846)
    • Paralomis grossmani Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis haigae Eldredge, 1976
    • Paralomis hirtella de Saint Laurent & Macpherson, 1997
    • Paralomis histrix (De Haan, 1849)
    • Paralomis hystrixoides Sakai, 1980
    • Paralomis inca Haig, 1974
    • Paralomis indica Alcock & Anderson, 1899
    • Paralomis investigatoris Alcock & Anderson, 1899
    • Paralomis jamsteci Takeda & Hashimoto, 1990
    • Paralomis japonicus Balss, 1911
    • Paralomis kyushupalauensis Takeda, 1985
    • Paralomis longidactylus Birstein & Vinogradov, 1972
    • Paralomis longipes Faxon, 1893
    • Paralomis makarovi Hall & Thatje, 2009
    • Paralomis manningi Williams, Smith & Baco, 2000
    • Paralomis medipacifica Takeda, 1974
    • Paralomis mendagnai Macpherson, 2003
    • Paralomis microps Filhol, 1884
    • Paralomis multispina (Benedict, 1895)
    • Paralomis nivosa Hall & Thatje, 2009
    • Paralomis ochthodes Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis odawarai (Sakai, 1980)
    • Paralomis otsuae Wilson, 1990
    • Paralomis pacifica Sakai, 1978
    • Paralomis papillata (Benedict, 1895)
    • Paralomis pectinata Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis phrixa Macpherson, 1992
    • Paralomis poorei Ahyong, 2010
    • Paralomis roeleveldae Kensley, 1981
    • Paralomis seagranti Eldredge, 1976
    • Paralomis serrata Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis spectabilis Hansen, 1908
    • Paralomis spinosissima Birstein & Vinogradov, 1972
    • Paralomis staplesi Ahyong, 2010
    • Paralomis stella Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis stevensi Ahyong & Dawson, 2006
    • Paralomis taylorae Ahyong, 2010
    • Paralomis truncatispinosa Takeda & Miyake, 1980
    • Paralomis tuberipes Macpherson, 1988
    • Paralomis verrilli (Benedict, 1895)
    • Paralomis webberi Ahyong, 2010
    • Paralomis zealandica Dawson & Yaldwyn, 1971
  • Phyllolithodes Brandt, 1848
    • Phyllolithodes papillosus Brandt, 1848 – flatspine triangle crab, heart crab
  • Rhinolithodes Brandt, 1848
    • Rhinolithodes wosnessenskii Brandt, 1848 – rhinoceros crab
  • Sculptolithodes Makarov, 1934
    • Sculptolithodes derjugini Makarov, 1934


Glyptolithodes is found chiefly in the Southern Hemisphere, but extending as far north as California, although all its closest relatives live in the Northern Hemisphere. Its single species, G. cristatipes was originally placed in the genus Rhinolithodes.


Lithodes aequispinus[edit]

The golden king crab, Lithodes aequispinus, is caught in the Aleutian Chain off the coast of Alaska. The golden king crab is significantly smaller than the red and blue king crabs, averaging 5–8 pounds (2.3–3.6 kg).[3] It tastes similar to the red and blue king crabs, though perhaps somewhat sweeter. They are considerably cheaper due to their appearance and size.

Significant populations occur in pockets in the waters off the Pribilof and Shumagin Islands, Shelikof Strait, Prince William Sound and at least as far south as lower Chatham Strait in the south-east, where a regular commercial fishery occurs annually. It should be noted they occur in deeper water than the red king crab, often in depths exceeding 300 fathoms (1,800 ft; 550 m). Juvenile golden king crabs are cryptic and rely on structure-forming sessile invertebrates growing on the sea floor – such as corals, sponges and sea-whips – to provide habitat. These sessile invertebrates are slow-growing and they are at risk in certain areas where commercial fishing by bottom trawling has been common practice. For this reason, large tracts of the sea floor along the Aleutian Island chain have been protected from bottom trawling under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Lithodes couesi[edit]

The scarlet king crab, Lithodes couesi, is not often fished due to its small size and insufficient population to support commercial harvesting.

Lithodes maja[edit]

Lithodes maja occurs in the North Atlantic, including Northern Europe and Canada's east coast. It is not abundant enough to support commercial fishery, and is becoming rare in some areas.


Neolithodes yaldwini[edit]

In 2011, the scientists have found Neolithodes yaldwini on the edge of Antarctica, probably as a result of global warming, with major impacts on sediment texture, bioturbation and local faunal diversity.[4][5]


Red (P. camtschaticus) and blue (P. platypus) king crabs are some of the most important fisheries in Alaska, however populations have fluctuated in the past 25 years and some areas are currently closed due to overfishing. The two species are similar in size, shape and life history.[6][7][8] Habitat is the main factor separating the range of blue and red king crabs in the Bering Sea.[9] Red king crabs prefer shallow, muddy or sandy habitats in Bristol Bay and Norton Sound,[9][10] while blue king crabs prefer the deeper areas made up of cobble, gravel and rock that occur around the Pribilof, St. Matthew,[11][12] St. Lawrence and the Diomede Islands.

Red king crabs have an 11-month brood cycle in their first reproductive year and a 12 month cycle thereafter.[8] Both red and blue king crabs have planktotrophic larvae that undergo 4 zoeal stages in the water column and a non-feeding, glaucothoe stage which is an intermediate stage which seeks appropriate habitat on the sea floor.

Red king crabs make up over 90% of the annual king crab harvest. This crab is in the collection of the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

Paralithodes camtschaticus[edit]

The red king crab, Paralithodes camtschaticus, is a very large species, sometimes reaching a carapace width of 11 in (28 cm) and a leg span of 6 ft (1.8 m). Its natural range is the Bering Sea, between the Aleutian Islands and St. Lawrence Island. It can now also be found in the Barents Sea and the European Arctic, where it was intentionally introduced and is now becoming a pest.[13][14]

Paralithodes platypus[edit]

The blue king crab, Paralithodes platypus, lives near St. Matthew Island, the Pribilof Islands, and the Diomede Islands, Alaska, and there are populations along the coasts of Japan and Russia.[12] Blue king crabs from the Pribilof Islands are the largest of all the king crabs, sometimes exceeding 18 lb (8 kg) in weight.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sammy De Grave, N. Dean Pentcheff, Shane T. Ahyong et al. (2009). "A classification of living and fossil genera of decapod crustaceans". Raffles Bulletin of Zoology. Suppl. 21: 1–109. 
  2. ^ Patsy A. McLaughlin, Tomoyuki Komai, Rafael Lemaitre & Dwi Listyo Rahayu (2010). Part I – Lithodoidea, Lomisoidea and Paguroidea (PDF). In Martyn E. Y. Low & S. H. Tan. "Annotated checklist of anomuran decapod crustaceans of the world (exclusive of the Kiwaoidea and families Chirostylidae and Galatheidae of the Galatheoidea)". Zootaxa. Suppl. 23: 5–107. 
  3. ^ Florence Fabricant (2001-03-28). "Now, Live From Alaska, It's King Crab". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Craig R. Smith, Laura J. Grange, David L. Honig, Lieven Naudts, Bruce Huber, Lionel Guidi & Eugene Domack (2011). "A large population of king crabs in Palmer Deep on the west Antarctic Peninsula shelf and potential invasive impacts" (PDF preprint). Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (in press). doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1496. 
  5. ^ Richard Black (September 6, 2011). "Giant crabs make Antarctic leap". BBC News. 
  6. ^ G. C. Jensen & D. A. Armstrong (1989). "Biennial reproductive cycle of blue king crab, Paralithodes platypus, at the Pribilof Islands, Alaska and comparison to a congener Paralithodes camtschatica". Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 46 (6): 932–940. doi:10.1139/f89-120. 
  7. ^ A. K. Klitin & S. A. Nizyaev (1999). "The distribution and life strategies of some commercially important Far Eastern lithodid crabs in the Kuril Islands". Biologiya Morya (Vladivostok) 25 (3): 221–228. 
  8. ^ a b B. G. Stevens & K. M. Swiney (2006). "Timing and duration of larval hatching for blue king crab Paralithodes platypus Brandt, 1850 held in the laboratory" (PDF). Journal of Crustacean Biology 26 (4): 495–502. doi:10.1651/S-2677.1. 
  9. ^ a b North Pacific Fishery Research Council (2005). "Essential Fish Habitat Assessment Report for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands King and Tanner Crabs" (PDF). NOAA Fisheries Report. 
  10. ^ J. Soong & T. Kohler (2005). Norton Sound Winter Red King Crab Studies (PDF). Fisheries Data Series. Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 
  11. ^ J. Zheng, M. C. Murphy, et al. (1997). "Application of a catch-survey analysis to blue king crab stocks near Pribilof and St. Matthew Islands" (PDF). Alaska Fishery Research Bulletin 4 (1): 62–74. 
  12. ^ a b Ivan Vining, S. Forrest Blau & Doug Pengilly (2001). "Evaluating changes in spatial distribution of blue king crab near St. Matthew Island" (PDF). In Gordon H. Kruse, Nicolas Bez, Anthony Booth, Martin W. Dorn, Sue Hills, Romuald N. Lipcius, Dominique Pelletier, Claude Roy, Stephen J. Smith & David Witherell. Spatial processes and management of marine populations. University of Alaska Sea Grant College Program Report. pp. 327–348. ISBN 978-1-56612-068-5. 
  13. ^ Lars Bevanger (August 9, 2006). "Norway fears giant crab invasion". BBC News. 
  14. ^ Alex Kirby (September 29, 2003). "King crabs march towards the Pole". BBC News. 
  15. ^ "King Crab 101". Fisherman's Express. 2000. 

External links[edit]