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Tiny and See-Through on the Oregon Coast: Adorable but Eerie

Published 07/15/020 at 4:24 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Tiny and See-Through on the Oregon Coast: Adorable but Eerie

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(Seaside, Oregon) – Remember that alien crab that burst out of people in the Alien movie franchise? Well, this Oregon coast resident isn’t it – but it sometimes looks a bit like that creepy creature of Sci-Fi lore. (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

This tiny see-through beastie is actually a Dungeness crab, but a very baby one. They go through this stage early in life, becoming eerily transparent but with a dash of blue. Seaside Aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe spotted one a few weeks ago on the north Oregon coast and provided some fun insights into it, calling him an “adorable little guy.”

“Believe it or not this blue-eyed beauty is a Dungeness crab,” Boothe said. “It is currently in a stage of growth called a megalope.”

Each winter, the female Dungeness hosts gobs of larvae inside and then releases them after they’ve hatched. At this point, the little ones are microscopic, Boothe said, a form of larvae called Zoea. Their ability to swim is quite limited so they’re at the mercy of the currents, just riding along where the ocean takes them.

You'll find them along the entire U.S. west coast, and definitely from the southern Oregon coast up through Washington beaches.

“While free-floating, the Zoea will continue to develop,” Boothe said. “They go through six different growth stages before settling down onto the seafloor.”

That sixth and final stage is called megalopal – or megalope singular, megalopae for plural. They graduate (well, grow) to start looking like actual crab, whereas before they've had a kind of almost tadpole look. Boothe said they not only develop legs but claws about now. For awhile they’re still unable to swim in this stage, but eventually they grow a shrimp-like abdomen that makes them good at it.

Boothe said they’re also an important food source for larger creatures like whales or coho salmon.

“Nearshore waters along the Oregon coast see megalopae in high numbers in the late spring and early summer,” she said. “Currents and tides cast them ashore.”

It’s about now they start settling at the bottom or near the bottom of the ocean, where they grow into adulthood. But they’re often spotted along the tideline, as Boothe has captured here, where they burrow into the sand.

“They have also been known to hitch a ride to shore on Velella velella, those stinky blue guys that wash in when the wind blows out of the west,” Boothe said.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the megalopae can be found in vast numbers sometimes, but then they have to be in order to survive being eaten or walloped by the tides.

“During their first two years of life they put all their energy into growth and molt up to six times a year,” Boothe said. “By year three their growth rate slows down and they only molt once per year. Their energy is now reserved for reproduction.”

You can find other interesting sea creatures at the Seaside Aquarium, on the Prom in Seaside. 503-738-6211.

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