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  • Writer's pictureAustin Pugh

Meet the Critters: Dungeness crab

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

A Dunegess crab lies on grass in front of a ruler showing it's size of 15''

Diet: These animals are carnivores, who scavenge for creatures that live on or in the ocean floor. Their food consists of mussels, shrimp, worms, snails, and smaller crabs.

Habitat: Adults live in subtidal areas with a sandy or muddy bottom (usually no deeper than 180m). Juveniles live in the intertidal until their 2nd summer.

Predators: Octopus, halibut, dogfish, sculpins, rockfish, birds, and larger crabs.

OA Impact: Ocean acidification has been found to impact the hemolymph (crab blood!) causing increases in some compounds ([Na+], [Ca2+], and [SO4 2−]). Additionally it was found that oxygen consumption was lower and so were nitrogenous wastes. These point to ocean acidification's negative impact on the Dungeness crab.

Geographic Distribution: These crabs are found along the Pacific coast of North America, they are found from Alaska's Aleutian Islands (55°N) to California (34°N), sometimes being found in Baja California in Mexico (25°N). The geographic range depends more on the temperature tolerances of the larvae than the adults.

Close up picture of the front of a Dungeness crab
This image was originally posted to Flickr by kevincole at It was reviewed on 5 March 2008 by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.

Critter Fun Facts:

The Dungeness crab has wide culinary use, although only around 1/4 of it's weight is meat. It has long been part of the diet of many Indigenous groups along the Pacific coast and today is considered a delicacy in North America. Due to the culinary demand for the crabs it supports both commercial fisheries (large scale) as well as a personal fisheries (small scale and amateurs). To differentiate the Dungeness crab from other crabs in the region, simply compare their legs; a Dungeness crabs legs are much shorter than other similar species in these regions. The adult crabs are very tolerant of salinity changes in the water and because of this can be found quite far up freshwater inputs, like estuaries, along the coastline.

Check out the distribution of the Dungeness crab on our Map of Canada's OA Resources by clicking here!

Linnaean Classification:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Arthropoda

Subphylum: Crustacea

Superclass: Multicrustacea

Class: Malacostraca

Subclass: Eumalacostraca

Order: Decapoda

Suborder: Pleocyemata

Infraorder: Brachyura

Section :Eubrachyura

Subsection: Heterotrmata

Superfamily: Cancroidea

Family: Cancridae

Genus: Metacarcinus

Species: magister

Etymology: (Metacarcinus) Before Crab, (magister) Teacher

Common Names: Dungeness Crab, Dungeness rock crab, Californian crab, Pacific crab

Past Names: Cancer magister (Dana, 1852)

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