iPhoneOgraphy – 26 Dec 2016 (Day 361/366)
Crabs are decapod crustaceans of the infraorder Brachyura, which typically have a very short projecting “tail” (abdomen), usually entirely hidden under the thorax. They live in all the world’s oceans, in fresh water, and on land, are generally covered with a thick exoskeleton and have a single pair of claws. Many other animals with similar names – such as hermit crabs, king crabs, porcelain crabs, horseshoe crabs, and crab lice – are not true crabs.
Crabs are generally covered with a thick exoskeleton, composed primarily of calcium carbonate, and armed with a single pair of chelae (claws). Crabs are found in all of the world’s oceans, while many crabs live in fresh water and on land, particularly in tropical regions. Crabs vary in size from the pea crab, a few millimetres wide, to the Japanese spider crab, with a leg span of up to 4 metres (13 ft).
About 850 species of crab are freshwater, terrestrial or semi-terrestrial species; they are found throughout the world’s tropical and semi-tropical regions. They were previously thought to be a monophyletic group, but are now believed to represent at least two distinct lineages, one in the Old World and one in the New World.
The earliest unambiguous crab fossils date from the Jurassic, although Carboniferous Imocaris, known only from its carapace, may be a primitive crab. The radiation of crabs in the Cretaceous and afterward may be linked either to the break-up of Gondwana or to the concurrent radiation of bony fish, crabs’ main predators.
Crabs often show marked sexual dimorphism. Males often have larger claws, a tendency which is particularly pronounced in the fiddler crabs of the genus Uca (Ocypodidae). In fiddler crabs, males have one claw which is greatly enlarged and which is used for communication, particularly for attracting a mate. Another conspicuous difference is the form of the pleon (abdomen); in most male crabs, this is narrow and triangular in form, while females have a broader, rounded abdomen. This is because female crabs brood fertilised eggs on their pleopods.
Crabs are prepared and eaten as a dish in several different ways all over the world. Some species are eaten whole, including the shell, such as soft-shell crab; with other species, just the claws and/or legs are eaten. The latter is particularly common for larger crabs, such as the snow crab. Mostly in East Asian cultures, the roe of the female crab is also eaten, which usually appears orange or yellow in fertile crabs.
In some regions, spices improve the culinary experience. In Southeast Asia and Indosphere, masala crab and chili crab are examples of heavily spiced dishes. In the Chesapeake Bay region, blue crab is often eaten with Old Bay Seasoning. Alaskan king crab or snow crab legs are usually simply boiled and served with garlic or lemon butter.
For the British dish Cromer crab, the crab meat is extracted and placed inside the hard shell. One American way to prepare crab meat is by extracting it and adding a flour mix, creating a crab cake. Crabs are also used in bisque, a global dish of French origin.
Imitation crab, made from minced fish products that are crafted to resemble crab meat, is disdained throughout the culinary industry as an unacceptably low-quality substitute for real crab. This does not hinder its popularity in Japan (where it originated) and in home cooking, where cost is often a chief concern.