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Oregon Coast Tideline Creatures Get 'Frozen in Time' in Unusual Way

Published 02/01/2017 at 6:29 AM PDT - Updated 02/01/2017 at 3:29 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast Tideline Creatures 'Frozen in Time' in Unusual Way

(Oregon Coast) – Something new that at least one expert hasn't heard of before happened on the north Oregon coast recently: the cold snaps that hit the state stunned and even killed some creatures on the beach in an unusual way. (All mole crab photos by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium recently discovered a host of dead, tiny mole crabs along the tideline in the Seaside area. Or at least they seemed dead. But according to Boothe, they probably weren't.

“Most of these seemingly dead mole crabs were simply cold-stunned,” Boothe said. “The outside air temperature had been much, much cooler than the local ocean temperature (with local air temperatures around 28-34 F and ocean temperatures around 48-50 F). These poor little crabs, when uprooted by heavy surf and stranded on the beach, got too cold to burrow down into the sand.”

Some probably died, but many – at least as Boothe theorizes – were likely revived by the ocean.

“Frozen in time, the mole crabs had to wait until the next wave, hoping it would warm them up enough so that they could try to bury themselves in the sand again,” she said.

Scott Marion, Marine Habitat Project Leader, with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), said he had not heard of this happening and he wasn't aware of any incident like this in the past. However, he also admits it's not usually something that would come across his desk or a part of his regular research.

It didn't surprise him, however.

Mole crabs – usually about an inch and a half long – frequent what is called the swash zone. This is an area of extreme importance to the near-shore environment that is a narrow stretch that sits just beyond the tide line.

“Mole crabs' general behavior is to ride the waves into the swash zone, and they forage in the sand there and quickly bury,” Marion said. “So I can imagine if you had a combination of really big waves carrying them far up the beach and very cold temperatures that they would be slower to get buried quickly.”

Mole crabs are indeed related to many kinds of crabs that are well known, but they're much smaller. They are in the same order as hermit crabs, true crabs and shrimp.

They have tiny feather-like appendages which they use to collect plankton – their food – and no pinchers. Instead, they have something like little legs which allow them to bury in the sand. They do this by swimming and digging backwards, which allows their eyes to stick out of the sand. Occasionally you can see the ocean appear to have a “bubbling” effect as huge numbers of mole crabs get tossed around by the tides and they struggle to dig themselves back in.

As common as they are, you don't see them that much. But in summer they come out in great droves and they feel kind of creepy as they brush across your bare feet if you're standing in the water. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour




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