One of the most common phrases I heard growing up was, “No elbows on the table!” Well, this crab would have been in big trouble at my family’s dinner table…the sandflat elbow crab or Heterocrypta occidentalis.
As you can see from the photo, this crab has disproportionately large claws ending in tiny pincers, making it look like it’s all elbows and forearms. (Technically, crabs have legs, not arms, so those are actually forelegs and it might be more accurate to call it the knee crab.)
Sandflat elbow crabs are pretty small with the width of their shell averaging just under an inch. According to the book Pacific Coast Crabs and Shrimps by Gregory Jensen, elbow crabs spend their days buried in the sand leaving their eyes and rostrum just about the surface. (The rostrum is the part of their shell that extends in front of the eyes, so it looks like a nose, but it’s not.) Then it’s off to scavenge for food at night.
They live along the California coast from just north of San Francisco all the way to the Gulf of California. Elbow crabs can be found hanging out in sandy areas close to shore and in water up to 570 feet deep. For more photos of sandflat elbow crabs and to see some mating action, check out these photos taken by Chris Grossman. And remember if you invite an elbow crab over for dinner, it’s only fair to allow elbows on the table.