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Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Chesapeake Bay

By Deane Winegar

Design by Lenz, Inc. Decatur, Georgia.



Chesapeake Bay > Sidebars > Crab Terminology

Crab Terminology

Apron: The shell’s abdominal covering. The shape of the apron is one way to determine the sex of a crab. The male has a t-shaped apron. Immature females have a triangular apron sealed to the body. Mature females have a broadly rounded apron, which is not sealed to bottom portion of the shell. Another method of determining sex is claw color; males have blue claws and females have red-tipped claws.

Buckrams: Crabs in the stage following papershell, when the shell is harder but still pliable.

Doublers: A mating pair of crabs, when the male carries the female beneath him. During this period, which can last two days or more, the male protects the female during her vulnerable soft-shell stage. She does not leave him until her shell has hardened and she can protect herself.

Hardshells: Crabs with hard shells.

Jimmies: Male crabs.

Keepers: Crabs that measure 5 inches from tip to tip of the longest spikes is big enough to keep.

Papershells: Crabs with new shells that have begun to stiffen.

Peelers: Crabs that are just about to shed their hard shells. Peelers are easy to eat because the meat does not have to be picked from the shell. A pink dot shows up on the crab’s back fin about a week before the molt.

She-crabs: Immature females.

Softshells: Crabs that have shed their hard shells, leaving them with thin, soft shells. Each time a crab molts, it takes about four days for the new shell to harden. During this stage, the crab is vulnerable to predators, including humans, who can eat the whole crab without the time-consuming task of picking the meat from the shell. The soft-shell season begins with the first full moon in May and continues through early fall.

Sooks: Adult females.

Sponge crabs: Female crabs with egg masses on their abdomens. Sponge crabs may not be kept.


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