Blue Crab Facts
If you are seeking information on the Maryland Blue Crab, then you are probably well aware that the Blue Crab’s meat is considered one of sweetest meats there is. On these pages we will try to give you some how to tips on getting the most enjoyment out of eating the Maryland Blue Crab.
The Maryland Blue Hard Shell Crab
The scientific name for the Blue Crab is Callinectes: (Greek) and translates to Beautiful Swimmer. Crabs can only swim and walk from side to side instead of forward and backward. Cannibalism is common of young smaller crabs by larger crabs and may help regulate population surplus. Crabs are also scavengers and predators; they will eat live or dead fish, clams, snails, and ocean vegetation.
Native Americans for centuries living on the Delmarva Peninsula took pleasure in eating these crustaceans, and introduced the European settlers to them. Early treaties included provisions for the rights of Native Americans for “Hunting, Crabbing, Fowling, and Fishing.”
BLUE CRAB IDENTIFICATION
#1 Jimmy Crabs:
The number one Jimmy crabs are male crabs that are full of meat and typically the most sought after crabs. You can identify the male crabs by the bluish color on the tip of the claws. You can also identify the male crabs by looking at the bottom side or belly of the crab. The bottom apron is the shape of the Washington monument. This shape is totally different from the females. (please refer to #3 Sook Crabs). The #1 Jimmy typically has a darker, older looking shell and sometimes has what looks like rust on the bottom of the shell. Valued for the meat they contain, they are considered the crabs of summer. The #1 Jimmy Crabs are graded by size. The measurement is taken from the left point of the hard shell to the right point of the hard shell. The sizing is as follows:
- Small Crabs 5-5 ½ inches
- Medium Crabs 5 ½-6 inches
- Large Crabs 6-6½ inches
- Jumbo Crabs 6½-7 inches
- Colossal or Heavyweights 7 plus inches – These crabs are a rarity and therefore are not always available
- ** Be careful when purchasing crabs by size. The grading of hard shell crabs can depend on the region the crabs are harvested. In the lower Chesapeake bay some companies call a 5 ½ – 6 inch crab a Large crab which only measures to be a medium on our scale. There is no industry standard for grading hard crabs. For instance, a crab that is graded “large” in the lower Chesapeake Bay region would be graded “medium” in the upper regions.
#2 Jimmy Crabs – The number two Jimmy crabs which are sometimes called “whitey Crabs” are the male crabs that either do not meet a certain measurement (from shell point to shell point) or are not full of meat. They are typically caught right after shedding their old shell and have not quite filled out their new bigger shell. These crabs are typically harvested and sold to the crab picking companies because of their cheaper cost and the ease of removing the meat.
#3 Sook Crabs – The number three Sook crabs are the mature female crabs which means they are able to mate and carry eggs. You can quickly identify the sook crabs by the orange color on the tips of the claws. You can also identify the sook crabs by looking at the bottom of the crab. The apron on the bottom has the shape of a dome sometimes referred to as the Capital Dome. The rounded abdomen is free to open (not sealed shut) therefore allowing her to mate and carry eggs. The sook crabs are typically sought after for the sweet taste and the egg roe that sometimes is present inside the crab. Sooks tend to have less meat than the Jimmies and usually end up in the picking houses for crabmeat.
#4 Sally Crabs – The Sally crabs or “she crab” are the immature female crabs which means they cannot mate, or carry eggs. They also have an orange color on the tips of the claw like the #3 Sook Crabs. They can be identified by looking at the bottom of the crab. The apron on the bottom is the shape of a triangle or pyramid. The sally crab has not yet mated and has not yet carried eggs. She will be mated after she sheds her hard outer shell.
Sponge Crabs – The sponge crab is a female crab that has been mated and is carry eggs under her apron. She will typically carry over two million eggs. Due to sea predators only 1or 2 eggs of the over two million eggs will ever make it to be a blue crab.
Soft Shell Crabs- In order to grow the blue crab goes through a molting period where it sheds it old hard shell which is replaced with a new larger shell. During the molting process the old shell is released exposing a soft shell that has grown under the old hard shell. The new shell typically stays soft as it quickly grows to become a bigger shell. The crab will stay in this soft state for 1 to 2 days before turning hard. By looking at the swimming paddle of the blue crab, it can be determined how soon the crab will shed its hard outer shell. Once caught, these crabs are separated and will be sold as peelers. The peelers are placed in shedding tanks along with other peelers. The shedding tanks are monitored 24 hours a day to make sure the soft crab is removed the instant it releases the old shell. This reason for the monitoring is to keep the other crabs from eating the soft crab after it sheds its hard outer shell.
Soft Shells are graded into the following sizes. The measurement is taken from point to point of the soft shell:
Hotel 4 ½ -5 inches
Prime 5 – 5 ½ inches
Jumbo 5 ½ -6 inches
Whales 6 plus inches