Can you eat mole crabs?

In this short article, we will answer the question, “Can you eat mole crabs?”. We will further elaborate on the different ways to cook mole crabs, the ideal mole crabs to eat and how to find them. 

Can you eat mole crabs?

Yes, you can eat mole crabs. Mole crabs are edible and have good taste when prepared correctly and caught from a clean beach (not from an area with sewer water running through it). 

Studies show that mole crabs contain 11.80% and 12.94% omega-6 fatty acid from total fat. In addition, diets including 12.5% or 25% mole crab meat reduced cholesterol levels in mice. These results indicate that mole crab has high potential as a source of animal nutrition (1). In addition, the chemical content of mole crab include 9.1% of moisture content, 32.5% of crude protein, 10.2% of fat, 4.9% of crude fiber, 26.4% of ash, 9.3% of calcium, and 1.6% of phosphorus (2). 

They can be eaten in many different ways but definitely not raw. While the majority of the seafood is safe to consume, mole crabs can harbor parasites. It is best to cook them to avoid any health problems. 

What are mole crabs?

Marine mole crabs (Emerita emeritus) belong to a small genus of crustacean species belonging to the Hippidae family. Mole crab has strong genetic relationships with shrimp, crab, and lobster and is one of the largest communities living in the sandy beach area from spring until autumn season (2). Mole crabs, also known as the Atlantic Sand Crab or simply sand crabs, are assuredly amongst the smallest of crabs. These are little crustaceans having an oval shape, generally beige in color with a dark top, light bottom, and 5 pairs of legs without any pincers. 

Their shell is approximately 3.75 cm (1.5 inches) in length, yellowish-white in color and resembles the shape of an egg with purple marks. 

The female mole crabs grow to nearly one inch in length and the male mole crabs have half that size. They are fast diggers. They burrow into the sand base first and face the incoming tides. They are seen usually particularly on sandy beaches where the waves split.

They feed upon planktons that they grab using their antennae.

Marine mole crabs are generally consumed in the form of “rempeyek”, a deep fried Javanese cracker. The most commonly used processing methods applied to aquatic organisms include heating by boiling, steaming, roasting in an oven, frying, or grilling with charcoal (1).

Different ways to cook mole crabs 

After finding several soft-shell mole crabs, the first thing you should do is wash them off properly. Bounce them together like you toss a bowl of pulses so that any rocks or sand inside their exoskeleton comes out.

After thorough washing, the sand crabs can be prepared in 3 or 4 different ways. The mole crabs take on any flavor that they are seasoned with to accommodate any dish. When you cook them, they become red exactly like crabs and lobsters do and you will recognise the definite odor of seafood. 

You can simply fry them by dropping them into hot, deep oil. When they start to float it indicates they are prepared, just eat them with the shell and all (you will find them delicious).   

Another method is by pulling off their tiny tails, which carries some of their digestive systems with them, squeezing them to get extra digestion out, washing them, and then frying them as they are or by marinating.  

The third method is by covering the whole (or cleaning) with fresh water and bringing it to a boil and then keeping it bubbling for around twenty mins. They are then put in a large container along with the broth, mashed afterwards with a vegetable masher or with anything similar. Then the liquid is filtered and used as a base for different soups. 

They can be deep-fried and then served with honey or can also be used to make soup stock.

A study compared different methods of preparing mole crabs: boling, steaming and grilling. All of these cooking methods significantly altered the nutritional composition of the crabs, especially because of the moisture loss. Cooking by boiling could better preserve the amino acids, fatty acids and minerals in the mole crab (1).

The ideal mole crabs to eat

The mole crabs with the black circle encompassing them are soft-shelled mole crabs. They are the crabs that have just been freshly molted, hence, they are softer than the rest in the group. 

The body of the marine mole crab is slightly round (oval) and gray and has a uropod, antennae, a bilaterally symmetric abdomen, and a telson under the thorax that is elongated and tapered. Average morphometric values of the marine mole crabs examined in the present study included a carapace length of 29.28± 1.63 mm, a telson length of 20.78± 1.72 mm, a telson width of 10.10± 0.82 mm, and a weight of 7.32± 1.05 g (1).

You can identify these mole crabs as they are normally semi-transparent. These soft-shelled mole crabs are more desirable for eating than the hard-shelled mole crabs. 

How to find the mole crabs?

To find the mole crabs:

Search for the tiny “v” markings in the sand as each singular mole crab leaves a little “v” indentation in the sand which helps to locate them. 

It is correct that any other particle (that is prominently bigger than a particle of sand) that becomes implanted in the sand will make a comparable v-shaped mark. You might get confused and find a group of molluscs, but keep searching and you will discover what you are watching for.

Watch for their antennae coming out of the sand when the water subsides. This is also a useful clue, but there is a more general method that is much simpler.

Search for rough patches of wet sand when the water subsides. It is probably the best approach to describe what to watch for. They will be in beds and you will see these beds as the water subsides after a wave disperses on the shore. These crustaceans will create disruptions in the very thin layer of water that moves above them. 


In this short article, we have answered the question, “Can you eat mole crabs?”. We have also elaborated on the different ways to cook mole crabs, the ideal mole crabs to eat and how to find them. 


  1. Santoso, Joko, et al. Nutritional values of the Indonesian mole crab, Emerita emeritus: are they affected by processing methods?. Aquacult Aqua Conserv Legisl, 2015, 8, 579-587. 
  2. Haq, Multazimul, et al. Exploration of composition, elements, and microstructure of body and shell on tropical mole crab (Emerita emeritus). IOP Conf Ser Earth Environ Sci, 2018, 187.