Galapagos Crabs

Galapagos Sally Lightfoot Crab


Sea Lions and boat, Galapagos


Galapagos Sally Lightfoot Crabs


With all the magnificent sights on the shores of the Galapagos Islands, crabs are not usually the first creature our eyes behold. But the Galapagos crabs, like other crab species, are fascinating.


The two species we saw most were the Sally Lightfoot and hermit crabs.


Sally Lightfoot Crabs are most prevalent, seen on beaches and rocks on all the islands. The legend is that they were named after a Caribbean dancer, for their agility.


They have great speed and are very difficult to capture, moving swiftly in four different directions. Charles Darwin jokingly wrote of them: “…perhaps because of their rapid reaction time, they appear to read the mind of their hunter.” 


Like other saltwater crabs, Grapsus grapsus are equipped with five pairs of legs, including a pair of pincers. The hard exoskeleton is an acquired feature.


When born, they hatch in the water. At that early point they are larvae and swim deeper into the waters, feeding on phytoplankton. They undergo a series of molts, each time adding more body segments and appendages, eventually developing into juveniles. They then swim to shore, and begin scavenging.


Juveniles are dark-colored, camouflaging in the lava rocks; they also stay in groups, for safety. As the young crab ages, each molt provides a harder and more colorful skeleton.


This photo captured both adult and juvenile crabs.

Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Juveniles are black, adults are bright-colored.

Like all of Earth’s scavengers, the crabs add enormously to our environment by keeping it clean and providing a healthy seaside ecosystem.


In addition, the Sally Lightfoot Crabs are known to eat ticks on marine iguanas.


Sally Lightfoot Crab with four Marine Iguanas


Sally Lightfoot Crab Wikipedia


Hermit crabs are another species you see on the Galapagos.


This species has evolutionarily adapted to their soft body by finding hard, discarded shells to live in.


This one, below, has chosen a sea snail shell for its protective body covering. The tip of the abdomen can clasp strongly onto the shell. When the crab outgrows its shell, it finds a new one.


Galapagos Hermit Crab


Hermit Crab Wikipedia


All crabs are especially vulnerable creatures. Predators from the water and land abound, including humans.


American Oystercatcher, Galapagos Islands. They can pry open crab shells with that powerful red bill.


For protection: the hard shell helps, they can surrender and regenerate a leg if necessary, and they quickly scamper, hiding in rocks and crevices. Their sideways motion is also an aid.


We don’t usually think about the locomotive ways of living creatures, but for most it is forwards and backwards. Crabs are different.


If you quietly stand still on the shoreline, you may have the opportunity to observe a crab skitter sideways. Watching this brilliant, bright creature effortlessly zip sideways is like watching a marine superhero.


Written by Jet Eliot.

All photos by Athena Alexander.

Marine Iguana, Galapagos. Photo: A. Alexander


80 thoughts on “Galapagos Crabs

  1. Hi Jet! i really look forward to your posts every Friday. 🙂 as always, they’re very interesting and informative. i greatly enjoyed your galapagos crabs! first time to see hermit crabs and the ability to spare a leg and regenerate is amazing. galapagos is simply beautiful and Alexander brilliantly captured that! thank you both for sharing! 🙂

    • It’s always a treat to hear from you, Wilma, you just made my day and it’s not even 8am yet! I think it’s pretty incredible too for a crab to regenerate it’s leg. I hope your Friday breakfast was another good one. Sending smiles your way, and wishes for a happy weekend.

  2. Those crabs look crabby. Excellent write up and photos. Crabs are fascinating creatures. The closest thing we get to crabs out here are crawdads.

    • I’m glad you find crabs fascinating, Timothy, I do too. And you’re right about their relative, the crawdad; they are in the same Order classification. When I was growing up in the Midwest, that’s what we saw the most, too. Thanks so much.

  3. They give me the creeps unless they are on my plate. But they are fascinating creatures just the same. I like that they will eat ticks. Not many animals do. One thing that I always thought was amazing about them is that they can breathe under the water and above it too. What a great setup for an animal. I didn’t know about the name of these little dancers. Interesting bit of info there. Your trip to the Galapagos Islands must have been memorable with so many things being different from what we see at home.

    • I appreciate your efforts at considering the amazing aspects of crabs, Anneli, even when they’re not your favorite animal. I would guess with all the boating you’ve done over the years, you have seen a good many crabs. I, too, think it’s wonderful that they can breathe outside the water. They have gills, and they keep the gills wet under the shell. Thanks very much for your visit and comment, appreciated, as always.

      • I have a scene in my novel The Wind Weeps where Andrea is dealing with having to pick up crabs to put them in the pot to boil. The part about how to pick them up is pretty much taken from personal experience. NOT fun. But they are so tasty. I imagine that your Sally crabs are not big enough to eat. Is that right? Do they have any crab fishery down there?

      • Loved hearing about your character’s job of picking up crabs, Anneli. Apparently the Sally Lightfoot crabs are extremely fast and difficult to catch. And since all of the Galapagos are protected, they have the luxury of not being preyed on by humans. I read somewhere they’re not very tasty. Keep up the writing, my friend.

  4. I enjoyed this post about the colourful crustaceans you witnessed in the Galapagos – the different survival skills and adaptations are wonderful when you stop and think about it. Little shoreline superheroes!
    I like to watch the black bears forage for crabs (from the far shore!)
    Thanks, Jet, and have a wonderful weekend!

    • I enjoyed your comment, as always, pc. Glad you enjoyed the Galapagos crustaceans. I especially liked hearing about your observations of the black bears foraging for crabs. I have such a vivid picture in my mind of black bears on the Tofino, from Wayne’s photo blog. I’m always so grateful you connected me with him, via your blogroll. Always a joy, my friend — you, too, enjoy your weekend.

  5. Pingback: Galapagos Crabs — Jet Eliot |

  6. For some reason, the iguanas just make me laugh. I really like the photo of them on the rocks, all that grey, and then the bright crab in contrast. The hermit crab shot is really fun as well. The Galapagos must be a fascinating place. Thanks for sharing this bit of it.


    • Glad you enjoyed the crabs and the Galapagos photos, Janet. I love the iguanas, and they make me laugh too. I like that photo too, and at the time I had no idea that the Sally Lightfoot Crab was taking care of all the marine iguanas’ ticks. Yes, the Galapagos are a fascinating place. It’s not for everyone, though, it’s kind of strange. The islands are mostly desolate and rocky, and since they are protected (which is great), there are not a lot of human-accommodating comforts. Many people live on boats while visiting there, we did, since hotels are limited. Consequently, I was seasick every day. Lost a lot of weight on that one week trip, not eating much. But I love, love, loved being there. Thanks so much for your interest.

  7. I’ve seen crabs all over the world, all different kinds. They are amazing creatures, very prolific and abundant. They do provide a great service to the environment. Very nice post my friend! Thank you. 🙂

    • As I was going through Athena’s photos, I realized we, too, have seen many crabs from all of the world. That alone is a curious thought, I’m glad we have both had this thought, HJ. Always a joy to “see” you here, my friend, thank you.

  8. I’m always fascinated by crabs. It’s surprising how many species there are; these are especially beautiful. We have lots of hermit crabs here, and I just found my first native Texas land crab a few weeks ago. I nearly stepped on the poor thing, but he wasn’t harmed and I only was startled. It seems we have two species, and one is a beautiful blue.

    • So very nice to hear from you today, Linda. I’ve been in a bit of a whirl lately with things, so haven’t had the time I usually do on WP, or to check out what you’ve been up to. I so enjoyed hearing about your recent land crab discovery, how exciting that must have been. My warmest thanks for your crab contribution and visit.

    • I’m sitting here at the keyboard tittering, David, from your hilarious comment. You always manage to bring a smile to my face…what a gift this is. Thanks so very much.

    • Exactly! It is really fun to just sit and watch the crabs, isn’t it, Donna? They are fascinating to watch, right, the ones with the big eyeballs on top of their heads. And definitely, as you say, comical. My warmest thanks.

    • Loved your question about the plural form of the Sally Lightfoot crabs, Alastair. Appreciated your comment about the five pairs of legs, your astuteness. I mislead in my writing, the five pairs of legs include the pair of pincers. Will clarify that in the post. I agree, beautiful colors. And thanks for your wonderful attention to this post. Sending warm smiles your way.

  9. The Galapagos are relatively speaking not SO far away for us, as we live in south Florida …. closer than New York, where we used to live, anyway :-D. We talk all the time about going there, and your delightful post has given me more motivation to consider it again. I must look to see if I’ve missed other Galapagos trip posts by you and Athena in recent days or weeks!

    • Wonderful to hear from you, BJ, thanks for stopping by. I’m glad the Galapagos crabs inspired you to think about visiting there. Although these islands are not for everyone–desolate and bare necessities–from what I know about you, you would like them. True wildlife aficionados love it here, as did we, and I think that includes you. Aim to get a tour that includes the breeding frigatebirds–absolutely magnificent. I have some posts on them. Many thanks.

      • Thanks for the tips about visiting the Galapagos, Jet! I always love seeing the Frigatebirds overhead – we’ve seen them here in Florida and in Central America. But I didn’t know they breed in the Galapagos!

  10. They sure are pretty little critters! I can understand the benefits of scooting sideways. That would be a little disconcerting to a predator… at least for long enough to permit an escape.

    • Enjoyed your comment, montucky, and the understanding of the sideways movement. And after they scoot sideways, if the predator still makes a successful grab, they can let go of a leg. Pretty incredible. Many warm thanks.

    • I’m chuckling after reading your comment, Gunta. Right? I didn’t know these crabs ate the ticks until I was researching for this post…and I do love anything that eats ticks. Saves us the blood-draw. Thank you, as always, much appreciated.

  11. Enjoyed your post, Jet! My daughter’s family spent a week in Oregon and sent me a video of a crab running sideways. The girls were so excited about the unusual skill 🙂 Good to know that my favorite iguanas have friends in them and use their assistance.

    • I really liked hearing about the video that your daughter’s family took of the sideways-running crab, Inese. It’s a very cool movement, I’m guessing you enjoyed. How fun that they saw it and videotaped it! I’m happy you enjoyed this post, Inese, thanks so much for this contribution.

  12. Marvelous joint effort on photos and words, as always. I am familiar with the hermit crab but not the Sally Lightfoot one. It is always fun to watch crabs, the combination of their unusual movement and their home on their backs in the case of the hermit crab.

    Awesome Iguana with the little tuft of white on his head, that is probably NOT hair, but looks like a really rad hairdo.


    • Wonderful to have you stop by and take a vicarious visit with us to the Galapagos, Peta. I agree, hermit crabs are so interesting, with their “home on their backs.” The tuft of white on the marine iguana’s head is, you’re right, not hair. The white is salt that the iguana shot out of its nostrils, an excretion that then dried. There is no end to fascinating creatures in the Galapagos. Always a pleasant joy to “see” you, thank you.

    • I especially like watching crabs here because the lava is so dark and the Sally Lightfoot crabs are so contrastingly bright. I’m happy I could share them with you, Nan, thank you.

  13. Loved the photo of the sea lions and oystercatcher and was amazed by the ending to have a much greater appreciation of my zodiac symbol (always wanted to be a superhero)!! Wonderful learning experience and fabulous photos!!

  14. I know you’ve been to Costa Rica, Jet; these Sally Lightfoot (what a great name!) crabs reminded me a bit of the big blue crabs I saw in Costa Rica. Are they similar or has my memory faded from that long ago trip there?

    • Hi LuAnne. Sally Lightfoot crabs do occur in Costa Rica, and there are numerous other crab species there as well. I am glad you enjoyed crabs while there, and they must’ve been memorable for you to remember it from a long ago trip. Many thanks for your visit and interest.

  15. Fabulous photos, Jet! And the name Sally Lightfoot really made me smile 🙂 🙂 We have hundreds of small crabs here on the salt marshes but nothing to compare with these creatures.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Jo, always a treat to “see” you. I liked hearing about the small crabs you have in the Algarve, too. Great to imagine hundreds of them there on the Portugal coast.

  16. I smiled though this whole post as I spent many hours in Galapagos transfixed by these crabs. you are definitely right in that they don’t get top billing in the wildlife wonderworld but oh my they fascinating creatures.

    • I’m thrilled to hear you found the Galapagos crabs intriguing too, Sue. There’s so much happening on those islands, with all the wild and wonderful creatures, but the crabs are pretty spectacular too…glad you agree. Thanks ever so much.

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