Blue Crab (Callinectus sapidus)
Watercolor and colored pencil

Callinectus sapitus, from the greek for ‘beautiful swimmer’ can be found in the western Atlantic, from Nova Scotia to Argentina. This ten-legged crustacean has a pair of paddle shaped rear appendages which allow it to move gracefully through the water and have helped earned its name. It is easy to determine gender in the Blue Crab, as females have a much wider underside ‘apron’ than males and their claws are more reddish than the males’ characteristic blue claws. Is a bottom dweller and an important link in the marine food chain- being both predator and prey to many other species. It feeds on bivalves, crustaceans, annelids, fish and plants, and is eaten by bass, eel and catfish, among others.

The Blue Crab is a significant staple of the fishing industry and is so popular in Maryland and other mid-Atlantic states that guidelines were put in place to curb the intake of the species, which had reached a yearly catch of 100 million in the early 1990s. Despite raising the legal size and limiting fishing days, demand for the blue crab is still higher than the capacity of the Chesapeake Bay to produce and maintain a healthy population, so they are often shipped in from other southern states, which results in a ripple effect of environmental and economic consequences. In addition to harvesting issues, bay species are affected by the loss of submerged aquatic vegetation that comes with development of coastal areas. Crabs and other organisms depend on these coastal resources for food and shelter, creating a fragile balance between habitat requirements and human appetites.

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