A Batwing Coral Crab kept my attention for a whole day in the Florida Keys

The day Becky and I discovered this Batwing Coral Crab while pulling stone crab traps in the waters of the Florida Keys may give you an insight as to how passionate I really am about the marine life and the ocean. I love having these discoveries right outside my door.

It was April 10, 2006, Becky and I went out to pull and rebait our stone crab traps. We had them on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys in five to eight feet of water. The weather forecast called for the winds to pick up as the day went on. We decided to pull the traps early so we didn’t have to be in wet conditions. See when the winds pick up we tend to take water over the bow of the boat as we are pulling the trap on board. The extra weight of the trap and both of us on the bow causes he boat to have a tendency to dip into the waves and scoop the water up and wash it down the deck of the boat.

Batwing Coral Crab


We were on the 5th trap, when we opened it there was this crab inside that was the color of a crab that had already been cooked. We both stared at it for a few minutes before saying anything. I reached in and picked him up, I noticed he wasn’t as aggressive as the other stone crab. He didn’t try to pinch my finger off. His body was very smooth. His color was orange and off white with white and yellow spots. He had the image of a bat across the top of his shell. The tips of his claws and legs were chocolate brown to purple. He was very pretty.

Batwing coral crab

We didn’t have a camera with us that day. We really wanted a picture of this crab which turned out to be a Batwing Coral Crab. We put him into a bucket of water so we could bring him in with us to get his picture. We were both really excited over finding this new creature we had never seen before. We always carry a couple of 5 gallon buckets with us because you never know what may be in the stone crab traps with the crabs. Sometimes I get tropical fish for my aquarium. We also get reef fish, lobster , shrimps, octopus, all kinds of shells , blue crabs, rock suckers and catfish. It’s interesting when we take people out with us when we’re pulling the traps. They love not only seeing the stone crabs and how we snap the claw off, but they really get excited over all the other neat creatures in the traps.

Batwing coral crab OK so we get in and dock the boat. I rush upstairs to look this crab up in my reef books. I was happy to find him in a book called “Reef Creature Identification” by Paul Humann. There he was, I got to tell you they are much more vivid in person than in the photograph. We found his name to be the Batwing Coral Crab. He’s also called Coral Crab, Red Coral Crab and Queen Crab. We found out that it stays hid in shallow coral reefs during the daytime and comes out to eat in the open at night. His range is from three feet to forty five feet of water. He’s shy. The Batwing Coral Crab is common in the Bahamas and the Caribbean. It’s uncommon too rare in many locations due to over harvesting. The book didn’t mention Florida. Of course Key West is considered the US only Caribbean Island. Maybe the crab knew that. I found out unlike the stone crabs here where we take only the claw and let the crab live, the whole Batwing Coral Crab is eaten. They kill them.

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We take lots of pictures of him in and out of the bucket. We decide to phone Mote Marine Research Laboratories that is just a couple of miles from here. We’re trying to find out if more Batwing Coral Crabs are in this area and anything else we can find out about it. They ask us to bring it there for them to see. We drive him over in the car. The crab expert scientist isn’t there. Some of the other researchers are. They’re asking us questions about the crab. As it turns out we knew more about him than they did. As we’re getting ready to leave, the crab expert arrives. She comes over to the bucket and takes a peek. Then she walked off. No interest, not photos, no nothing. I was put off. Becky and I had gotten so excited over this Batwing Coral Crab and this lady was just ho-hum about it. I offered to email the one scientist pictures and he accepted and gave me his card.

claws up on Batwing Coral Crab On the way back home we stopped everyone that was outside their house or walking or biking on the street to show them this crab. They all loved it and had lots of questions. Not one of them had ever come across this creature before either.

I need to cook my stone crab claws. We make a cocktail to celebrate our discovery and toast to the Batwing Coral Crab as we’re cooking the claws. We begin to discuss the fate of this crab. We’ve decided we need to take him out and release him in a place where he won’t end up in a trap. The next person to find him may not be so kind to him. They just may want to sample what he tastes like. He’s just too pretty to kill.

We’ve already taken all of our stuff off the boat. So now we have to reload the cooler and the rest of the stuff it takes to make us comfortable while on the water. I’ve decided on the best location for this crab to live his days out. The place I choose is 11 miles from here. Off we and our new friend go. The winds have picked up now. No matter we’re on a mission. It’s a bit of a bumpy ride but we get there.

Becky holding Batwing Coral Crab


I keep an eye on the bottom machine when I get to the location for release. I want it to be a nice reef. I find it. It’s in 21 feet of water. We look around to make sure there are no traps in the area. I circle back around, Becky has the Batwing Coral Crab in hands and at the moment I say she released it. We both watch as he swims down to the reef unharmed. I mark the spot so we can come back and dive here. We’ll try to find him when the water gets warm.

We have an eleven mile drive back into the wind. We laughed all the way back at all the miles we had traveled by boat and land with this crab. It was worth it to set this most beautiful new creature called the Batwing Coral Crab free on that reef in the Lower Florida keys.



Return from Batwing Coral Crab to Florida Keys Fishing

Return from Batwing Coral Crab to N The Florida Keys