SAND FLEAS (Mole Crabs)
The small crustacean called the "Sand Flea" here in
Destin and surrounding panhandle
is what biologists call a decapod Crustacean.
Further classification narrows it down to the genus
Emerita. There are over 10 different species of the
this small crab located on the beaches throughout
the world. The Gulf Coasts species are either
Ermerita Talpoida or Emerita benedicti. (Talpoida
means "mole like") I have no idea what the
difference in the two species are and really don't
think the fish care either.
The sand fleas do not get very big -
are around a half inch to an
long. The females grow up to
inches long. The males only grow
about 3/4 inches long,
Mole Crabs have five sets of "legs" on its
underbelly. They are used primarily to paddle
through the water and to dig into the soft sand. One
characteristic of a Mole Crab is that they always
travel backwards. They can walk on the sand to get
back to the water, but this is rare.
They have no claws as most crabs have. Also
located on the rear of the underbelly is the
crabs Telson. Locally it is referred to as the
"digger" (but is not used to dig with)
The telson has several purposes:
1) Helps to protect the soft underbelly of the crab.
2) Initiates digging by tactile stimulation of its base.
3) Anchors the sand flea in the sand once digging
If you pull the telson away from a pregnant crab,
you will find hundreds of brightly colored eggs
underneath. During the reproductive season from
February through October, one female can produce
one clutch per month of 50-45,000 eggs, which take
about 30 days to develop. There is a popular
fisherman's belief that the orange eggs on a sand
attracts pompano and other fish to the sand
flea. This is why a lot of people like to use
orange or pink colored pompano jigs.
The eggs will turn brown shortly before
they hatch. Studies have shown that
they usually hatch just after sunset and
when the waves or tide or high. It is
thought that this timing helps to protect
the eggs and the high tides assist in
carrying them out to sea where they
begin their life as free swimming zoea
larvae. At sea they drift for 3-6 months
and go through numerous
As the larvae reach the juvenile stage, the currents
begin to wash them up onto our beaches around
March of each year. They are around 1/4inches
long at this stage and are termed "recruits" by the
biologist. They join the older sand fleas that have
spent the winter buried deep in the sand near the
Over the next several months they will live in the
near shore area, from about the first
sandbar/breakers up to on the beach in the wet
HOW DO I PUT A SAND FLEA ON THE HOOK?
Moma with her babies
|Side view of a sand flea held in the palm of my hand. It is facing to the left.
The front of the Destin Sand Flea. It has two
pairs of antennae - one pair is used to assist
directing its food into its mouth and the other
pair is used in breathing. It also has one pair of
|Top view of a Destin sand flea. It is again facing to the left.
|Bottom view, facing left. The arrow shaped shell in the middle pointing to the
front is its "carapace" and is called a Telson. Locally referred to a "digger"
Eating the Mole Crab
One is to simply drop them into hot, deep oil and fry. When they float they are done and just pop
them in, shell and all (I eat shrimp shells and find them delicious.) A second way is to pull off their
small tail, which takes some of their digestive system with it, squeeze them to get more digestion
out, wash them, and then fry them as is or in a batter. Another way is to cover them whole (or
cleaned) with fresh water and bring to a boil and boil for about 20 minutes. Then put them and the
broth in a large container and mash the mole crabs with a potato masher or the like. Then filter
that liquid and use as a basis for various soups. (One similarly cooks coquina — minus the
mashing — and just uses the broth.) When you cook mole crabs they turn red just like crabs and
lobsters do and you will detect the definite aroma of seafood.
In southeast Asia they are deep fried then dipped in honey. In Brazil, where they are called Tatui
(Emerita brasiliensis) there are many ways to prepare them. The simplest is to just fry them whole
in a little butter. Another way is to boil them until red and then toss them in a pan with oil, salt and
pepper. After stirring to coat flour is added to coat and cook. Then they are arranged on the plate
in a whole with the seasoned flour on top. Natives also eat the roe raw off the large female3s.
How to Eat Mole Crabs
By Jasmine Henry, eHow Contributor
Adventurous eaters can try mole crab chowder.
Mole crabs are most often used for fishing bait in the United States. The tiny crabs, colloquially
referred to as sand crabs, can be used as the base for a light, orange chowder broth. The crabs
can be gathered along the edge of the ocean at the beach by digging a hole slightly into the sand
and straining out crabs with a net. Varieties of mole crabs can be found worldwide and can be
consumed steamed or fried or in soups. Add this to my Recipe Box.
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Things You'll Need
2 lbs. live mole crabs
6 cups water
Large covered pot
Place the live mole crabs and 2 cups of water in the large pot. Place the lid on the pot and bring to
a low boil over medium-high heat. Cook for 20 minutes and remove from the heat.
Allow the crabs to cool slightly for about 20 minutes. Using a potato masher or immersion blender,
mash the crabs in the broth thoroughly.
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Strain the mixture through the finely meshed strainer. It may be necessary to repeat this process
two to three times to develop a sufficiently thin broth. Discard the mashed crab and set aside the
broth for later use.
Place the butter in the saucepan over medium heat. Fry the onions until golden brown and soft or
for about eight minutes. Combine the cooked onions and the crab broth in the large pot.
Add the cilantro, 2 cups of additional water and raw potatoes to the sauce pan. Replace the lid and
simmer over low heat for approximately 30 to 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
Evaluate the texture of the crab chowder and adjust according to taste. If a thinner chowder is
preferred, add an additional 1 to 2 cups water. Carefully mix in 1 to 2 tbsp. of all-purpose flour to
thicken the broth if desired.
Serve the mole crab chowder hot and allow diners to add salt and pepper to taste. Consider
garnishing with additional fresh cilantro or croutons for an elegant twist
Read more: How to Eat Mole Crabs | eHow.com http://www.ehow.com/how_8758076_eat-mole-
|Large sand flea caught in May on Pensacola Beach, just east of the Portofino
|Female sand flea with juvenile males attached to it. When I caught this one in
March, it had about 7 small males clinging to it but 4 fell off.
The rear of the sand flea.
|The Mole Crab (Destin Sand Flea)
|-------------------------- Sand Flea Habitat --------=------------
-------- Swash Zone -----------
Known as the "luckiest fishing village", Destin is the home to some of the best saltwater fishing in the United States. The 100 Fathom (600' depth) Curve of the Gulf of Mexico draws closer
to Destin than any other spot in Florida. This, along with Destin's close proximity to the East Pass and the Gulf of Mexico, allows quick access to the Gulf of Mexico's fishing bounty.
The purpose of this site is to acquaint a new fisherman to the Destin area - our local facilities, fish, waters and fishing methods. Tight lines and good fishing!
(aka Sand Fleas)
On the panhandle
beaches, one bait that is
prized by Destin's surf
fishermen is the small crab
that we call the Sand Flea.
It is not actually a flea and
will not harm you in any
way. No claws and it does
not bite. In other parts of
the United States, it is
referred to as a Mole Crab,
Sand Crab, Beach Fleas,
Sand Bugs and Sand
Fiddlers. It is a type of crab
that lives in the wet sand
and surf of our beaches.
Whatever you call it, the
sheepshead, and other fish
Fishing Destin Guide©
A local's guide to fishing around Destin and the Florida Panhandle