Edible crab (Cancer pagurus)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassCrustacea
OrderMalacostraca
FamilyDecapoda
GenusCancer (1)
SizeCarapace width: 20 cm (2)

Not threatened (2).

The common and familiar edible crab is easily identified by its large black-tipped toothed pincers and characteristic ‘pie-crust’ edging (3). It is the largest crab in Britain, and the heavy oval-shaped body is reddish-brown in colour (4). Although most individuals measure around 15 cm in width (3), a specimen in the Natural History Museum in Paris has a width of 28.5 cm (5).

This crab has a wide distribution in north-west Europe (2). It is common around the coastline of Britain (3).

Found in pools and gullies on course, rocky substrata and on muddy sand offshore to depths of 100 m (3). The largest specimens tend to occur offshore (2), whereas small individuals tend to occur beneath boulders (4).

Adult edible crabs take a very wide range of prey species, and are important predators of molluscs (2). When on sediments, these crabs dig large pits in order to find food (4).

Females reach maturity at carapace widths of 12.7 cm, whereas in males the figure is closer to 11 cm (2). Breeding takes place in winter. For a period before mating, the male holds onto a female until she moults. After moulting she is receptive to mating and copulation takes place. The female digs a pit in the sediment which she retreats into to lays the eggs. She then carries the fertilised eggs for seven to eight months before they hatch in spring or summer. Large female can carry a staggering 20 million eggs at any one time. After hatching, the larvae are planktonic for up to 30 days. Edible crabs are known to live up to 20 years of age (2).

The edible crab is the most commercially important species of crab in western Europe (6). It is fished offshore using baited pots (2).

This species is not threatened.

Conservation action is not required for this species. It is illegal to land females that are carrying eggs (4).

Wilson, E. (1999) Cancer pagurus. Edible crab. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom:
http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/Cancerpagurus.htm

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January, 2004)
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn
  2. Fish, J.D. and Fish, S. (1989) A student’s guide to the seashore. Unwin Hyman Ltd, London.
  3. Wilson, E. (1999) Cancer pagurus. Edible crab. Marine Life Information Network: Biology and Sensitivity Key Information Sub-programme [on-line]. Plymouth: Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. (November, 2003)
    http://www.marlin.ac.uk/species/Cancerpagurus.htm
  4. Marine Life Information Network Learning Zone (January, 2004)
    http://www.marlin.ac.uk/learningzone/species/LZ_Canpag.htm
  5. Marine Life Study Society (January, 2004)
    http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/BMLSS/Cancer.htm
  6. Gibson, R., Hextall, B. and Rogers, A. (2001) Photographic guide to the sea and shore life of Britain and north-west Europe. Oxford University Press, Oxford.