The blue crab is common to all North Carolina coastal waters, but the largest populations tend to live in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. In 2011, over 30 million pounds of blue crabs were harvested commercially, with a dockside value of $21 million.
In order to grow, a blue crab must shed its shell and form a new one. As crabs shed, they emerge from their old shells with a very thin, soft shell that hardens after several days. These softshell crabs are delicacies that are eagerly awaited by crab lovers each season. The shedding process is repeated up to 25 times during a crab’s life span, which seldom exceeds two to three years. When environmental conditions are favorable, large numbers of crabs can be produced from a relatively small spawning stock. Females can spawn twice in their life-cycle and release up to two million eggs at a time.
If a crab loses a leg or claw, it is able to regenerate or grow a new limb to replace the one lost. In addition, the crab possesses the power to throw off limbs voluntarily. If a crab is seized and held by a leg, it may release that leg and escape. The leg is regenerated during the next shedding cycle.
A mature male crab is called a “jimmy” and is easily recognized by the brilliant blue shading on his shell and claws. Female crabs are called “sooks” (adult) or “she-crabs” (immature) and can be distinguished by the rounded aprons on their underside and red tips on their claws. The “sponge crab” is a female that has an egg mass on her abdomen.