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Ocypode cordimana (Family Ocypodidae)

Common Ghost Crab, Smooth-handed Ghost Crab



This species has a tropical distribution pattern. In Australia, it ranges from the Kimberley in northern Western Australia, across the Northern Territory to Queensland and central New South Wales, near Sydney. It is particularly common in New South Wales and offshore sand islands along the Great Barrier Reef. Elsewhere this species is widespread in the Indo-Pacific region, including the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, New Guinea, the Red Sea and Somalia, southern Africa, Madagascar, Japan and Tahiti. (Cocos Keeling Is., WA, NT, QLD, NSW) .


The Common Ghost Crab is seen on open beaches and sandy shores in estuaries. It grows to 25-35 mm across the carapace. Its body is rectangular in shape, being slightly broader than it is long. The eyestalks do not have terminal tips like others in the genus. Unlike its relatives, the Common Ghost Crab does not have a ridged structure on the inside surface of each claw, which is rubbed on the shell to produce sounds. Male crabs are slightly larger than the females, and in both sexes one claw is much larger than the other. This translucent, cream coloured crab is often tinged with yellow, pink or steel grey colour.

Ecology/Way of Life:

The Common Ghost Crab digs deep burrows in dry sand near estuary entrances and far into sand-hills that back ocean beaches. Their burrows may be hundreds of metres from the shore, sometimes high on the fore-dune, up to one metre deep. This crab goes down to the water's edge at twilight and forages at night for food on the shoreline, returning to its burrow before dawn. This species is one of the most terrestrial of crabs. They are very swift footed and extremely well camouflaged. If disturbed, they can be difficult to catch, able to dart this way and that. If a burrow is nearby they make a hasty retreat. Otherwise, they can burrow rapidly into loose sand.

Preferred Image

Interaction with Humans/Threats:

This widely distributed and abundant species does not appear to be under threat at this stage, nor has little interaction with humans.

Other Comments:

This species was described in 1825 by the distinguished French zoologist, Anselme Desmarest (1784-1838), who describe many recent and fossil crustacean species; the genus name is from the Greek: ocy- = swift, and podos = foot, reflecting the speed of these crabs; the origin of the species name is uncertain; however, it may be derived from the Latin: cordis = heart, and manus = hand, referring to the size and shape of the large claw present in both sexes.

Further Reading:

Bennett, I. 1987). W.J. Dakin's classic study: Australian Seashores. P.226-7. Angus & Robertson.

Davey, K. (1998). A Photographic Guide to Seashore Life of Australia. p. 60. New Holland Press.

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

Jones, D. & Morgan, G. (1994). A Field Guide to Crustaceans of Australian Waters. p.196. Reed.


Text, map & photograph by Keith Davey.

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Images and Multi-media:  
Attached Image  
image/jpeg 82289 bytes Common Ghost Crab
Distribution Map  
image/gif 1022 bytes Distribution of Common Ghost Crab

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