A Quick Guide to Ghost Crab Hunting at the Outer Banks

A Quick Guide to Ghost Crab Hunting at the Outer Banks


The Outer Banks is a beach lover’s paradise with countless adventures to enjoy by day, and fun activities that continue well after the sun goes down.  

Perhaps one of the most popular after-dark activities enjoyed by locals is hunting ghosts along the water’s edge. No, not the spooky kind. We’re talking about the crustacean sort. Ghost crab hunting is a fun (and often hilarious) activity for the whole family to enjoy.  

What Is a Ghost Crab? 

Ghost crabs are small little creatures about two inches across that are known for burrowing deep in the sand along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. These crabs get their name from their ability to camouflage with their sandy surroundings. You’ll know you’ve found one if you see a pale colored crab, smaller than a sand dollar with two eyes that sit on stalks, giving these sand crabs 360-degree vision. 

How to Catch a Ghost Crab 

Ghost crabbing in the Outer Banks reaches its peak in the summer months between May and early September. The crabs don’t enjoy the sun, so during the hot summer days they’ll usually burrow up to four feet under the sand. You’ll find these crabs at night, when they surface to hunt for food along the sandy beach. This is when your adventure begins! 

Ghost crabs are shy little guys, so they can be tricky to spot. With the right gear, you’ll be able to catch them scurrying across the sand. The great part about crab hunting is you only need a couple of things: a flashlight, a bucket, and some willing hands!  

You’ll want to start your search along the water’s edge after the sun’s gone down. Check their common hiding places under rocks and in tidal pools. When you see movement along the sand, quickly shine the flashlight in that direction! The light stuns them for a few seconds, giving you a head start! 

If you’re a little ways away from the stunned crab, some hunters note that throwing a little bit of sand on the crab will give you a few extra seconds to approach it before it starts running.  

When you’re ready to pick it up, make sure you approach the crab from behind so you avoid the claws! You should be able to easily pinch the shell on the top and bottom and drop it in your bucket for observation. If you’re nervous about using your hands to capture the crab, you can use a small net to scoop it up and into the bucket.  

Bonus Tips for Catching These Sand Crabs 

Think you’re ready to head to the beach for a fun-filled evening of ghost crab hunting? Here are a few extra tips for you and the family. 

  • Wear dark colors so you blend in with the dark of the night. These crabs have excellent vision and they’re always alert watching for predators.

  • Walk slowly and try to stay quiet until you see them scurry! You don’t want to alert them to your presence too early or they’ll start to burrow! 

  • These crabs frequent stretches of beach without a lot of foot traffic.

  • Some crab hunters like to bait the crabs into a little net using raw fish or chicken.

  • If the crab you’re chasing starts to burrow, start digging! You can often still catch it.

  • Although these crabs live on land, they need to wet their gills to breathe. Once you’ve caught a crab, make sure to release it a few minutes after capture so its gills don’t dry out. And remember to always treat these animals with gentleness and respect. 

North Carolina is prime ghost crab hunting real estate. Next time you find yourself on the North Carolina coast, add ghost crabbing hunting to the top of your to-do list. 

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