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Blue Crab Glossary

General Terms

Apron - Abdominal covering on the ventral (bottom) side of the crab. Sometimes called the tail. Female crabs carry eggs under the apron, which becomes distended as eggs mature. See Blue Crab Identification for more information.

Atlantic Blue Crab - Known by its scientific name Callinectes sapidus.

Backfin - The swimming or paddle fin. The rear-most fin of the crab which has a flat, oval shaped swimming paddle. Also a type of crabmeat.

Ballies - See Sponge Crab.

Bimbo - Slang term referring to a female blue crab.

Brackish-Water Crabs - Crabs that migrate up-estuary to low-salinity waters during the warm months.

Buck and Rider - See Doubler.

Buckram - Soft crab just past the paper-shell stage. Crab has a crinkly-hard, leathery, semi-hard shell, about 12 to 24 hours after molting. A buckram's shell has gotten too hard and is therefore unmarketable as a soft crab.

Buckshot Disease - See Salt & Pepper Disease.

Buffalo Crab - Soft crab with the claws or legs missing; doorknob.

Busted Sook - See Sponge Crab.

Buster - Crab in an advanced stage of molting wherein the old exoskeleton has cracked under the lateral spines. Term also applies to molting crabs that died during the shedding process but were salvaged by the crabber for home consumption.

Callinectes sapidus - Scientific name of the Atlantic blue crab. Callinectes is Greek for beautiful swimmer and sapidus is Latin for tasty or savory.

Carapace - Top part of the shell or hard covering of the blue crab.

Carriers - See Doubler.

Car-Worm Crab - A crab that has remained in the shedding flats for two or more weeks without shedding. Worn spots on the sternum are common. Many of these crabs appear to be infested with chitonoclastic bacteria which produce pits in the exoskeleton and which may inhibit molting.

Channeler or Chandler - Large male crab that remains in the deeper channels of a bay or river.

Chicken Necker - A regional term (sometimes derogatory) denoting someone who fishes for crabs using chicken necks for bait, also used to describe non-resident weekend crabbers.

Clear Crab - See Whitey.

Cradle Carrying - See Doubler.

Crustacea - Class of invertebrates to which the Atlantic blue crab belongs.

Dead Man's Fingers - Elongated spongy-looking organs; gills. The term probably refers to the fact that the gray "shriveled" gills vaguely resemble the fingers of a dead person. They are not poisonous but do have an unpleasant taste and texture. Remove and discard when cleaning crabs.

Doorknob - See Buffalo Crab.

Doubler - A male crab carrying a sexually mature female underneath him; a pair of mating crabs; buck and rider or carrier.

Dwarf Female - A small but sexually mature female blue crab.

Ecdysis - Molting. The act of shedding the old shell when it is outgrown. Will result in a crab about one-third larger in size. The new shell takes two to three days to harden.

Eelgrass - A submerged long-leafed monocotyledonous marine plant (Zostera marina) of the eelgrass family that is abundant along the Atlantic coast and has stems used especially in woven products (as mats and hats).

Fat Crab - Crab that is nearing the end of its intermolt cycle meaning that it has fully fattened up inside (full of meat) and is in need of a new, larger shell. Fat crabs have yellow-brown "rusty" coloration on the ventral side indicating an "old" shell; heavy crab. Click here to see images.

Green Crab or Greens - Crab between molts; non-peeler crab; sometimes refers to a white sign crab; sometimes refers to a raw (uncooked) crab.

Hard Crab or Hard Shell Crab - Crab with a fully hardened shell, usually within four days after molting.

Heavy Crab - See Fat Crab.

Jimmy Crab or Jimmy Dick - A male blue crab, distinguishable by its T-shaped apron. See Blue Crab Identification for more information.

Lemon Bellies - See Sponge Crab.

Length - What most people would call the width. It is measured across the top shell between the two lateral (outermost) spines.

Light Crab - See Whitey.

Lungs - Sometimes mistakenly used when referring to the crab's gills. See Dead Man's Fingers.

Marsh (Swamp) Crab - A blue crab with dark brown coloration; usually caught in organic-rich, shallow tidal channels and ponds of the marsh and swamps bordering an estuary.

Megalopa - Final larval stage, between zoea and crab stage.

Molt or Moult - See Ecdysis.

Mumbo - An especially large blue crab. Slang term coined by member Rick Hakun (a.k.a. kingcrabber.) The term is a combination of the words "massive" and "jumbo."

Mustard - The yellowish substance found inside a cooked crab. Contrary to popular belief, the "mustard" is not fat, rather it's the crab's hepatopancreas, the organ responsible for filtering impurities from the crab's blood. Although many find its flavor distinct and delicious, it is recommended that you do not eat this since many chemical contaminants concentrate in this organ.

Nicking - To break the movable finger of the claws to prevent their use.

Painted Fingernails - All female crabs "paint their fingernails"; i.e., they have bright red claw tips. Males have blue claws.

Paper Shell - Soft crab about 9 to 12 hours after molting. Shell is slightly stiff.

Peeler Crab - Along the Chesapeake Bay this term is applied to all shedding crabs caught by soft-shell fishermen. Rarely used by Gulf coast crabbers.

Pepper Crabs - See Salt & Pepper Disease.

Pepper Spot Disease - See Salt & Pepper Disease.

Picking - The art of eating a steamed hard crab by picking out the meat.

Pink Sign, Pink Rim or Pink Line Crab - A pink line that appears along the inner border of the back fin (paddle) about one week before molt. The line marks the appearance of the new shell underneath its present hard shell; seconds. Click here to see images.

Portunids - Members of the swimming crab family to which the Atlantic Blue Crab belongs.

Punk Crab - See Sponge Crab.

Rank or Rank Peeler - Red sign peeler, already weak, approximately two hours prior to molt.

Red Sign, Red Rim or Red Line Crab - Hard crabs which will molt in less than two days. Amateurs can usually detect the red sign, but with a lot of practice. See also white sign and pink sign. Click here to see images.

Rusty Crab - See Fat Crab.

Sally Crab - Young, immature, female crab. Has a triangular shaped apron; she-crab. See Blue Crab Identification for more information.

Salt & Pepper Disease - A crab which has been infected with parasites which appear as small dark specks throughout its meat. See Crab Diseases. Also called buckshot disease, pepper spot disease, or pepper crabs.

Seconds - Crabs that have just turned from a white sign to a pink sign; pink sign crabs.

She-Crab - See Sally Crab.

Skinny Crab - See Whitey.

Snots - Also known as white sign or greens. In times past crabbers broke a joint of the cheliped or claw leg to see if the crab was developing a second skin underneath, in which case it was judged a peeler. Unattractive as it is, the term snot is a highly descriptive holdover from this ancient practice, from the fluid that emerged at the break. Today, watermen simply look for the white sign.

Snowball - See Whitey.

Soft Crab or Soft Shell Crab - Crab which has shed its shell. Less than 12 hours after molting. A delicacy in which the entire crab, paper-thin shell and all, is eaten. Soft crab season is marked by the first full moon in May and continues through early fall.

Sook - Sexually mature (adult) female crab. Has bell-shaped abdominal apron. See Blue Crab Identification for more information.

Sponge Crab - Female crab which is carrying eggs (roe) under her abdominal apron. Illegal to catch or possess in most areas. Also called a sponge, berried, orange, lemon, or punk crab, or a ballie or busted sook.

Terminal Molt - The final molt, usually associated with the female because, at this time, mating takes place while she is in the soft shell state. Following this molt, the female is mature and usually impregnated and will focus all of her energy toward producing eggs and spawning (and not muscle growth.) Therefore this molt will most likely be her last.

Ticky Crab - A crab that smells of iodoform (iodine), probably because of eating the marine bottom worm Balanoglossus.

Tin Crab - See Whitey.

Water Gall - A cooked crab that contains a lot of water. This is because a recently molted crab uses water to inflate and fill the voids of its new, larger shell. When cooked and cracked open, water pours from within. Often mistakenly attributed to poor cooking technique. See also Whitey.

Windjammer - See Whitey.

White Belly - See Whitey.

White Crab - See Whitey.

White Sign, White Rim or White Line Crab - Also known as snots or greens. The white sign is simply the first faint outline of the second exoskeleton or new skin forming underneath the old as molting approaches. It is very hard for laymen to distinguish. It usually appears about two weeks prior to molting.

Whitey - Recently molted, post-buckram crab with a grayish cast on its topside and lustrous white abdomen. This crab has not fully fattened up inside its new shell and does not contain much meat. A very light or hollow crab. Also called a clear, white, or skinny crab; or a snowball, water gall, windjammer or white belly. Click here to see images.

Zoea - The larva that hatches from the egg and continues until the megalopa stage.


Fishery Terms

Bare Potting - A technique whereby an un-baited crabpot is placed in a barren area. Crabs, seeking shelter, will enter the crabpot thinking that it's good cover.

Basket - A basket used to store caught crabs. Almost always a wooden (or plastic) bushel basket with a volume of 1.25 cubic feet. See also Bushel.

Bull Lip - A tough cut of meat from the facial area of beef. Bull lip is fast becoming the bait of choice for use on a trotline (replacing expensive eel) since it is durable, inexpensive, and crabs love it. Bull lip is obtained from any beef slaughterhouse.

Bunker - See Menhaden.

Bushel - A unit of measure, roughly 1.25 cubic feet. Most commercial watermen sell their crabs "by the bushel" in wooden (or plastic) baskets. See also Basket.

Chicken Necks - A popular bait which is used mostly by recreational crabbers ("chicken neckers.") Used primarily with traps, trotlines, and hand lines.

Crab Pot or Crabpot - A crabpot is a large square trap (usually two-feet square on all sides) constructed out of galvanized or PVC coated wire. The pot has two internal chambers. The bottom chamber, or "downstairs," consists of two or four entrance funnels, known as "throats," which make it easy for a crab to enter but difficult to exit. In the center of the bottom chamber is the bait box. The top chamber is the holding area, known as the "parlor" or "upstairs." Trapped crabs instinctively swim upwards and into the parlor through oblong, funnel-shaped holes cut into the floor making it difficult for the crab to swim back down. Used primarily by commercial watermen, crabpots are baited and left unattended in the water for up to 24 hours or longer. Not to be confused with a crab trap.

Crab Trap - A hand-activated trap used to catch crabs. Usually made of metal or PVC coated wire, a trap is a cube about one foot square on all sides (some traps are 6-inches high.) Traps have two or four hinged doors that swing down flat on the bottom exposing the bait. When the trap is pulled to the surface, the taut line pulls the doors closed thus trapping any crabs inside. Must be tended every 5-10 minutes or so. Not to be confused with a crabpot.

Cull - To sort crabs by size.

Culls - Usually refers to undersized (non-legal) crabs which have been sorted out of a catch.

Cull Ring - A circular ring installed in the "upstairs" chamber of a crabpot which allows small, undersized crabs to escape.

Cull Stick - A board or stick that is marked or notched at 5-inches (varies by state) which is the minimum legal size of a crab. A cull stick allows the watermen to quickly determine whether a crab is a "keeper" or not.

Dip Net - A hand-held crabbing net constructed of a long (six- or eight-foot) wooden pole with a 16-inch wire loop and net bag attached to one end. The net bag was traditionally hand-made out of cotton but is now mostly mass-produced out of nylon. To use, the crabber quickly "dips" the net into the water in order to catch crabs. Sometimes called a scap net.

Eel - Cut into 4" pieces, eel is the ultimate crab bait and is used extensively by commercial watermen on their trotlines. Because eel is considered a delicacy in Europe and Asia, its price has risen sharply thus making it prohibitive to use as bait.

Hand Line or Handline - A length of line to which a piece of bait is tied. The bait is lowered into the water and is checked every so often to see if a crab is feeding on it. If so, the line is gently pulled to the surface where the crab is dip-netted.

Jimmy Pot - See Peeler Pot.

Jimmy Crabbing - A male crab which is tethered to a line and allowed to swim freely to catch mate-seeking females. The jimmy is gently pulled back in and the female is harvested.

Keeper - A hard crab with a minimum length of 5-inches (varies by state) as measured between the lateral spines of the top shell. Check your local regulations.

Lick - Term used to describe dredging for crabs; a dredge is drawn across the bottom to catch wintering crabs or summer soft crabs.

Menhaden - A member of the herring family, the Atlantic menhaden is a very oily fish used as bait. Also known as bunker. Used almost exclusively by commercial watermen as bait for their crabpots.

Peeler Pot - A specialized crabpot with chambers to hold live male crabs to lure mate-seeking female crabs inside. These female crabs become soft crabs soon after they are caught in this manner. Usually practiced in the Spring.

Peeler Run - Usually occurs in the third or fourth week in May, with a full or waning moon, and with the water temperature close to 65F. This and other factors impel enormous numbers of crabs in the middle salinity ranges of the Bay to "turn" or do their first molt of the season all at once. Considered a peak molt.

Pot - See Crabpot.

Potting - The act of using crabpots to catch crabs.

Prop Stick - A board with a roller and guides attached (or hook-shaped pipe) that hangs over the side of a crabbing boat to hold a trotline while it is being worked. See Trotlining for Blue Crabs for more information.

Ring Net - A type of trap that consists of two rings each of a different diameter connected by netting. When baited and lowered to the bottom, the trap lies flat on the bottom. When the trap is pulled to the surface, the two rings form a deep pocket out of the netting which traps the crab.

Salted Eel - Eel that has been immersed in a salty brine solution which acts as a preservative. See also Eel.

Scap or Scapping - The act of crabbing by using a net alone (no bait.) A person scapping  for crabs will wade along the shore or walk along piers looking for crabs swimming beneath the surface. When a crab is located, the crab is quickly caught with a dip net.

Scap Net - See Dip Net.

Scrape - Small (1 x 4 foot) bar type trawl specifically designed for harvesting peelers from grass beds.

Snoods - Dropper lines, about 6-inches in length, to which baits are attached. This allows the bait to hang freely of the main trotline. Sometimes called trots.

Topless Trap - A crab trap which does not have a top panel. This allows the traps to stack nested saving space. Water pressure holds the crab in the trap as it is pulled to the surface. See also Crab Trap.

Trap - See Crab Trap.

Trots - See Snoods.

Trotline - A long, baited line that used to catch crabs. The line is anchored at both ends, to which a series of baits are attached at intervals of two to six feet. The baits are attached directly to the main line by simple slipknots or by shorter lines called dropper lines (known as trots or snoods.) The line is worked, from end to the other, by placing the line over roller (called a prop stick.) As the boat moves down the line, it gently lifts that section of line (and any feeding crabs) to the surface where they are netted. See Trotlining for Blue Crabs for more information.

Turkey Necks - Like chicken, turkey necks are used as bait by crabbers. Turkey necks are durable and will generally last several days when used on a trotline. Can also be used with traps and hand lines.

Zinc Anode - A piece of zinc that is attached to a metal crabpot which helps protect it from galvanic corrosion. See Sacrificial Zinc Anode for more information.


Packaged Crab Meat Terms

Backfin - Large white pieces of crab meat from the backfin cavity. The pieces are smaller than jumbo lump.

Blended Backfin - A uniform blend of backfin and special crab meat. One pound of blended backfin equals 4 ounces of backfin plus 12 ounces of special.

Claw - Dark, sweet claw meat rich in flavor. Excellent for soups, chowders, and stews. The least expensive type of crabmeat.

Cocktail Claw - Sold in cans labeled fresh or pasteurized. A cocktail claw is the last segment of the large claw with the shell completely removed, except for the tip, which may serve as a handle for dipping the meat in sauces. Also called crab fingers or cocktail delight.

Deluxe - See Special.

Flake - See Special.

Fresh - Cooked crab meat. Usually steamed.

Frozen - Cooked crab meat held in a frozen state.

Lump or Jumbo Lump - The largest pieces, or nuggets, of white body meat from the swimming leg body (backfin) chambers. Contains virtually no shell pieces. The most expensive form of crabmeat and is the choice of most connoisseurs.

Machine-Picked Claw - Smaller than hand-picked claw with added salt.

Minced - Crab meat separated from the shell by a mechanical process.

Mixed Meat - A mixture of lump and special meat in the same proportions as in the whole crab.

Moderate Thermal (Listericidal) Processing Procedure - Crab meat that is heated in hermetically sealed containers for a given time and at a temperature sufficient to achieve six decimal reductions of Listeria monocytogenes.

Pasteurized - Crab meat that is heated in hermetically sealed containers for a given time and at a temperature adequate to destroy all vegetative pathogenic organisms, but not to the degree of commercial sterilization. Pasteurization also decreases the number of spoilage organisms and results in a longer shelf-life at refrigerated temperatures.

Quik-Pik - A mixture of broken lump and special meat in the same proportions as in the whole crab separated from the shell by a mechanical process.

Regular - See Special.

Special - Smaller white pieces or chunks of crab meat removed from the walking leg body chambers and usually excludes backfin. Sometimes contains more shell pieces since it's harder to pick. The least expensive type of white meat. Also called regular, deluxe, flake or white.

White - See Special.


Hard Crab Market Terms

Bushel - A basket containing between three and eight dozen hard crabs, depending on their size. Usually a bushel of giant 7-inch males consists of about 30 crabs. A bushel of small 5-inch males consists of about 80 crabs.

Dozen - Twelve crabs. When ordering hard crabs in a restaurant, they are usually sold "by the dozen."

Mixed - A combination of sizes. A mixed bushel might contain No. 1's and No. 2's, etc. Always ask.

№ 1's (number ones) - Large male hard crabs. These make the best steamed crabs and are usually heavy and full of meat. Seek these crabs when eating out or for having a backyard crabfest. The most expensive type of hard crabs. See Buying Hard Crabs for more information.

№ 2's (number twos) - Medium male hard crabs. Usually sized at the minimum legal limit.

№ 3's (number threes) - Mature female hard crabs (sooks) usually sized at 4 inches and higher. Sooks are generally smaller than jimmies. Most are sold to commercial packing plants since No. 1's and 2's can be shipped live to area restaurants for a much better price. Not very desirable for backyard crab feasts. The least expensive type of hard crabs.



There is no industry standard for grading hard crabs. For instance, a crab that is graded "large" in the lower Chesapeake Bay region would be graded "medium" in the upper regions. As a general guide, the following sizes are acceptable. See Buying Hard Crabs for more information.

Colossal - Hard crab measuring 6 inches or more.

Jumbo - Hard crab measuring 6 to 6 inches in size.

Large - Hard crab measuring 5 to 6 inches in size.

Medium - Hard crab measuring 5 to 5 inches in size.

Small - Hard crab measuring 4 to 5 inches in size, usually females.

Note: In most states, there is no minimum size for keeping mature female crabs (sooks). This is because it's generally accepted that most female crabs stop molting (stop growing) following maturity, thus they remain the same size throughout the remainder of their lives.


Soft Crab Market Terms

Dressed - Soft crabs which are pan ready (eye and mouth section cut out and the gills and abdominal apron removed). Usually sold frozen.

Pan Ready - Soft crabs which have been fully dressed (eye and mouth section cut out and the gills and abdominal apron removed). Usually sold frozen.

See Buying Soft Crabs for more information.



Counter, Whale or Slab - Soft crab measuring 5 inches or more.

Jumbo - Soft crab measuring 5 to 5 inches in size.

Prime - Soft crab measuring 4 to 5 inches in size.

Hotel - Soft crab measuring 4 to 4 inches in size.

Medium - Soft crab measuring 3 to 4 inches in size.


Cooking & Picking Terms

Apple Cider Vinegar - Usually placed on the table in small bowls or cups so that people can dip their crab meat into it. Also mixed with water and used to steam crabs.

Beer - The crab pickers' all-time favorite beverage. Serve ice cold. Also mixed with water and used to steam crabs (but use the cheap stuff for that!)

Clean Before You Cook (CBYC) - A technique whereby live blue crabs are cleaned prior to cooking (this is the opposite of Maryland Style.) See Clean Before You Cook for more information.

Crab Knife - Very useful for cutting the crab body in half to expose the chambers of meat, and for picking the meat out with the tip of the knife. A once-popular crab knife was the Carvel Hall Crab Knife (Carvel Hall is now defunct.)

Dead Crab - A crab that has died before it can be cooked. Always discard! Dead crabs spoil very rapidly and pose a serious health risk if cooked and eaten.

J.O. Seasoning - Not as well known as Old Bay seasoning, but just as good (if not better!) Used by the vast majority of Chesapeake Bay crab houses and restaurants. Use J.O. #2 for steaming crabs.

Old Bay Seasoning - The quintessential crab seasoning! Mixed 50:50 with coarse flake salt, this is the most popular seasoning mixture used to steam crabs "Maryland Style." Can also be sprinkled directly onto the cooked meat.

Maryland Style - A very popular cooking technique whereby live blue crabs are liberally coated with crab seasoning and steamed until they turn bright red.

Newspaper - Used as a temporary tablecloth and trash bag. Newspapers are spread out evenly over the entire table about three or four sheets thick. Dump the freshly cooked crabs in the center and eat to your heart's content. When you're finished, simply roll up your "tablecloth," scraps and all, and toss into a plastic trash bag. Hint: If the trash man isn't coming for a few days, be sure to tie the bag closed tightly to help keep the stink down. Some people recommend sprinkling powdered laundry detergent on top of the crab shells before rolling the paper up to help keep the smell down.

Wooden Mallets - Wooden mallets are used for cracking open the claws. Usually all that's needed is a well-placed, gentle tap to crack open the shell. Mallets are not used to smash and beat the crab open, unless you desire a mushy mess with crabmeat full of shells!.


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