Giant edible crab

The monster crab on display at Scarborough museum.
The monster crab on display at Scarborough museum.

Written by Jeannie Swales

This may look like an everyday edible crab, but it’s actually an absolute monster. That carapace measures no less than 27cm across – not far off a foot. And each one of those claws looks capable of breaking a man’s finger.

The edible, or brown, crab (Cancer pagarus) is found mainly in the North Sea and North Atlantic Ocean, its range occasionally stretching as far as the Mediterranean.

Its carapace, with that characteristic pie crust frilled edge, generally measures at full adulthood around 15cm, or six inches, wide, with those reaching 25cm, or 10 inches, wide, considered exceptional – so you can see that this one really is a whopper. Edible crabs usually live around 25 to 30 years, although specimens believed to be up to 100 years old have been found.

The adult edible crab is a nocturnal creature, spending most of the day buried in sand on the seabed, or hiding in cracks and holes in the rocks, then venturing out at night to forage for food. Its diet includes other, smaller, crabs and lobsters, and molluscs such as whelks, winkles, razor clams, mussels and cockles.

Its main predator – other than man – is the octopus, which will even occasionally tackle a captive crab inside a crab pot.

Crabs have long been an important part of the economy of the Borough of Scarborough. Crabs and lobsters are trapped in net pots, which are baited with scraps of fish and placed on the seabed near to the rocks where they live.

A dressed crab is a real treat, with many people (including me!) believing it to be finer than its more glamorous cousin, the lobster.

The male, or cock, crabs have more sweet white meat; the females, or hens, have more of the rich, soft, brown meat, which is almost a ready-made pâté as it comes out of the shell.

Mounted in a large glass case with a fine background of sand and shells, this crab was on display at Scarborough’s Lighthouse Museum. When that closed in the 1990s, it came into the care of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects accumulated by the Borough over the years, and in the care of Scarborough Museums Trust.

There wasn’t a huge amount of information with this specimen, so if anyone knows when and where it was caught, and by whom, we’d be interested to know – please contact Head of Collections Karen Snowden on 01723 384506, or Karen.snowden@smtrust.uk.com