Blue Crabs' Secret


By Eleanor Spicer Rice
Our State Magazine

All along North Carolina’s coast, in small towns like Kill Devil Hills, Swan Quarter, and Englehard, blue crabs bubble peaceably in long, shallow bathtubs. They gently wave their pincers at other crabs in their tanks, waiting for the full moon, holding a secret beneath their carapaces.
“If you look at the back of a blue crab, you’ll see a dim figure of a woman,” says retired Englehard fisherman Marco Gibbs. “When the moon changes, she’ll take off her dress and you can see everything.”

Fishermen treasure these naked women as valuable assets to North Carolina’s $73 million fishing industry. When the ladies remove their dresses, the crustaceans become the soft crabs enjoyed by gourmands across the globe.

Blue crabs shed their small, tight shells to grow and mate. Fishermen collect the crabs in their more rigid form from open waters and place them in tanks in anticipation of the shed. They call these crabs “peelers” because they peel out of their thick armor, revealing a new soft, tender skin beneath. Without those tough helmets and hard, pinchy claws, the crabs are left defenseless and delicious.
No one knows for sure why blue crabs shed in greater numbers around the changes of the moon, but North Carolina fishermen often use lunar calendars to predict when they’ll have the largest haul.

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