Subphylum Crustacea (Crustaceans) — Order Decapoda (Crabs, Lobster, Shrimp) — Family Munididae (squat lobster) — Genus Pleuroncodes
Species: Pleuroncodes planipes (Stimson, 1860)
Species: Pelagic red crab
Alternate Name: Tuna crab, red crab, lobster krill, langostilla.
Identification: Generally bright red and in appearance resembles a lobster although having a shorter abdomen. A species of squat lobster from the eastern Pacific ocean.
Size: Up to 5.1 inches long.
Range: South to Chile but primarily found on the west coast of Baja California. During warm-water, El Ñino years they enter California waters and during those years have often been noted as far north as San Francisco. In the 2017 El Ñino they were seen (for the first time) as far north as Newport, Oregon.
Habitat: Free swimming in offshore Continental shelf waters, sometimes in vast pelagic swarms. Also found on sand and mud bottoms to nearly 300 feet deep. During El Ñino years they are often carried inshore and stranded on California beaches. Feeds primarily on zooplankton, copepods and other small organisms. In turn, it is an important food for fish such as tuna, billfish, and other large pelagic species. In addition, whales, pinnipeds (seals and sea lions), sea otters, sea turtles and Humboldt squid will feed on pelagic crabs when available.. When washed ashore they can be an important food for sea birds.
Pelagic red crabs washed ashore at the Cabrillo Pier in San Pedro
Piers: Not taken from piers.
Bait and Tackle: No bait and tackle for them but they can be taken by hand and used for bait.
Food Value: A mixed report with most that have tried them saying they are not worth the effort. Some scientists also caution eating them since their primary diet of zooplankton can contain high amount of toxins.
Comments: An infrequent visitor that can cover a beach with literally thousands of crabs when washed ashore.