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Ocypode ceratophthalma (Family Ocypodidae)

Ghost Crab, The Horn-eyed Ghost Crab


This species is widespread in both the tropical Indian and Pacific Oceans, ranging from East Africa and the Red Sea to Japan, Hawaii and Tahiti. In Australia, the Horn-eyed Ghost Crab has a tropical distribution, and ranges from southern New South Wales across northern Australia to Shark Bay in Western Australia. (WA, NT, QLD, NSW)


The Horn-eyed Ghost Crab is a striking, swift-running shore crab. The adults have a distinctive elongate extension of the eyestalk on each eye; these are longer in males than in females. They are absent in youngsters with a carapace width less that 25 mm. These crabs are a translucent cream to light brown in colour, with greyish markings and traces of pink and yellow. Underneath they are coloured chocolate brown. The large, white unequal-sized claws are also striking. The carapace is well camouflaged to match the sand colour and texture.

Ecology/Way of Life:

Horn-eyed Ghost Crabs are most commonly found just above high tide mark on sandy estuarine beaches close to the sea, and less commonly on open, exposed ocean beaches. They live in burrows, from which they emerge after dusk, and move down towards the water to feed on the flotsam thrown onto the beach by the previous high tide. These crabs make a creaking sound by rubbing a ridge of "teeth" on the inside of the claw across the sides of the carapace, when they are disturbed in the open or if another crab enters its burrow. This species has many special adaptations to harsh shore life and appears to be one of the most suited of all the shore crabs to a terrestrial existence.

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

As this crab shows a preference for living near the entrance of estuaries, there is considerable potential for habitat changes, human refuse, chemical and other pollution to pose a threat to this species.

Other Comments:

This species was described in 1772 by Peter Simon Pallas, Professor of Natural History at St Petersburg in Russia. The genus name comes from the Greek: ocy- = swift, and podos = foot, reflecting the speed of these crabs; and the species name is from the Greek: keratos = horn, and ophthalmos = eye, referring to the extension of the eyestalk above the eye.

Further Reading:

Bennett, I., 1987, W.J. Dakin's classic study: Australian Seashores. p. 226, Angus & Robertson.

Davey, K. 1988, A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia, p. 60, New Holland Press.

George, R.W. & Knott, M.E. (1965) The Ocypode Ghost Crab of Western Australia (Crustacea: Brachyura), Journal of the Royal Society of Western Australia. 48(1), 15-21.

Jones, D. & Morgan, G. (1994) A Field Guide to Crustaceans of Australian Waters. P. 193, Reed.


Text, map & photograph by Keith Davey.

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