Invasion History

First Non-native North American Tidal Record:
First Non-native West Coast Tidal Record:
First Non-native East/Gulf Coast Tidal Record:

General Invasion History:

The breeding range of Callinectes sapidus extends from Cape Cod to northern Argentina (Quequen River), including Bermuda and the West Indies. The distribution is disjunct, with a gap in equatorial South America (de Almeida et al. 2008). Adults are occasionally caught in the Gulf of Maine, as far north as Nova Scotia (Williams 1984). Within its native range, C. sapidus typically undergoes extensive migration and moves through many habitats in the course of its life cycle. Spawning and larval development take place in coastal marine waters, but the megalopa and juvenile stages are strongly attracted to brackish waters. Adults are abundant in low-salinity and sometimes tidal fresh waters, but migrate back to the mouths of estuaries for spawning. However, this crab can carry out its life cycle in high-salinity environments such as hypersaline lagoons in Mexico and Texas, and in the Eastern Mediterranean, where freshwater streams are rare or absent (Williams 1984).

Callinectes sapidus is a prized food item in its native range, and supports important recreational and commercial fisheries. This has led to introduction attempts and releases of live crabs as discarded seafood. In addition, these crabs are abundant in and near the major seaports of the Eastern US, and occur in the water column as larvae and swimming juveniles, making them likely candidates for ballast water transport.

North American Invasion History:

Invasion History on the West Coast:

In 1897, 162 Blue Crabs were released in San Francisco Bay, California (Voigelsang and Gould 1900, cited by Carlton 1979), apparently with no survival or reproduction. In 1994, one Blue Crab was caught at Tracy Pumping Plant, in the freshwater region of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Cohen and Carlton 1995). Cohen and Carlton refer to 'sporadic reports from Bay area waters in recent years' (Cohen and Carlton 1995). Recent releases are probably discarded live seafood. Because of the scattered nature of such releases, establishment of populations is unlikely.

Invasion History in Hawaii:

Between 1985 and 1992, six female C. sapidus were trapped in Kaneohe Bay, Oahu. These were probably also live seafood releases. No other occurrences of this crab have been reported (Carlton and Eldredge 2009).

Invasion History Elsewhere in the World:

Callinectes sapidus has been collected from many locations in northern Europe, and the Mediterranean and Black Seas. One specimen was collected in 1900 in Rochefort, France (Goulletquer et al. 2002). Scattered records are known from Copenhagen, Denmark (Jensen and Knudsen 2005) to the Guadalquivir estuary, Spain (Adena, 2002, cited by Cabal et al. 2006; Nehring 2011). Several reproducing populations are known from waters receiving thermal effluents from power plants in the Netherlands and Belgium (Wolff 2005, Kerckhof et al. 2007; Nehring 2011).

In the Mediterranean Sea, C. sapidus was first intentionally released in the bays of Saros and Thessaloniki, in the Aegean Sea, between 1935 and 1945 (Enzenrob et al. 1997). By 1942, it was found in Egyptian waters (Anonymous 1965), by 1947, in the Lagoon of Venice, Italy (Adriatic Sea), and by 1962-63, in the Western Mediterranean from Etang de Berre, France and the Ligurian Sea, Italy (Galil et al. 2002). However, this spread, especially in the western and central Mediterranean appears to have resulted from many scattered introductions, probably both by ballast water and discarded seafood, with varying degrees of success (Galil et al. 2002). Blue crabs are established in the eastern Mediterranean (Galil 2002), the Aegean Sea (Enzenrob et al. 1997), the Adriatic Sea (Beqiraj and Kashta 2010), and the Gulf of Taranto (Gennaio et al. 2006), but with only isolated records in the central and western Mediterranean (Malta, northwest Italy, France), where its establishment is unknown. In several locations, such as the Nile Delta and the Aegean Sea, large population outbreaks have occurred followed by sharp declines (Anonymous 1965; Enzenrob et al. 1997).

Callinectes sapidus has been reported from Japan, in Osaka Bay (in 1976) and Lake Hamana-Ko (Williams 1984). However, it is not known to be established in Japan (Iwasaki 2006).


Callinectes sapidus has a broad and flat carapace, twice as wide as long, whose greatest width is marked by a prominent spine, which is the ninth (starting from the front) and largest of the lateral teeth on each side of the carapace. The carapace has two broad, triangular, frontal teeth in the center, with a smaller, two-pointed tooth on each side. The propodus ('hand') of the claw and the carpus ('wrist') bear prominent ridges with a granular surface. The fifth pair of legs is flattened and expanded for swimming. The color of the dorsal carapace of the crab is olive or bluish green, while the claws are bright blue below, with red teeth. The under parts of the body are white (Gosner 1978; Williams 1984). The abdomen differs sharply between the sexes. In the female, it is broad and rounded, with a triangular tip. In the male, it is T-shaped, with a broad base, narrowing sharply, and then broadening slightly near the tip. (Gosner 1978; Williams 1984). The largest reported male crab was 227 mm wide (across the carapace, including the lateral spines), and the largest female was 204 mm (Williams 1984).  Zoeae and megalopa larvae of C. sapidus are illustrated in Roft et al. (1984) and Johnson and Allen (2005), along with additional references on larval development. 


Taxonomic Tree

Kingdom:   Animalia
Phylum:   Arthropoda
Subphylum:   Crustacea
Class:   Malacostraca
Subclass:   Eumalacostraca
Superorder:   Eucarida
Order:   Decapoda
Suborder:   Pleocyemata
Infraorder:   Brachyura
Superfamily:   Portunoidea
Family:   Portunidae
Genus:   Callinectes
Species:   sapidus


Neptunus pelagicus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Potentially Misidentified Species

Callinectes arcuatus
Tropical-subtropical Eastern Pacific species, occasional in southern California (Grozholz 2011). A 'blue crab' collected in the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve, on May 2011, was identified as C. arcuatus by DNA sequencing (10/25/2016, Steve Foss, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, personal communication).

Callinectes bocourti
Tropical Western Atlantic species, occasional on Atlantic and Gulf coasts (Williams 1984)

Callinectes danae
Tropical-subtropical Western Atlantic species, rare north of Florida (Williams 1984)



Life History- In crabs of the family Portunidae, the male attends the female before molting, and carries the female around, underneath his carapace. He releases the female, allows her to molt, and then copulates with her, inserting the first pair of pleopods, carrying sperm, into the female's seminal receptacles. The eggs are fertilized internally, and then extruded as a 'sponge' or a mass of eggs brooded between the abdomen and the body (Barnes 1983; Williams 1984; Lippson and Lippson 1997). The eggs hatch into zoeae, larvae about 1 mm in size with long spines, which drift in the plankton. Each zoea molts four to seven times before metamorphosing into a megalopa, which has partially developed legs and prominent eyes. The megalopa is capable of crawling on the bottom and active, directed swimming. It settles and molts into a miniature 'first crab' stage which has all the features of an adult crab (Barnes 1983; Lippson and Lippson 1997).

Ecology- In Callinectes sapidus, the life cycle is typically marked by migration through a range of environments. Mating can occur in brackish habitats, but the female migrates into the mouths of estuaries or coastal marine waters for spawning, where the eggs hatch, and zoeae develop. The megalopa tends to move up estuaries, a movement continued by the juveniles. The males, in particular, tend to move towards freshwater, while the females stay in saltier water. However, the C. sapidus can reproduce successfully in regions with little or no freshwater input (Williams 1984; Lippson and Lippson 1997).


Carrion, benthic invertebrates, plant material


Fishes, birds, humans

Trophic Status:




General HabitatGrass BedNone
General HabitatCoarse Woody DebrisNone
General HabitatTidal Fresh MarshNone
General HabitatUnstructured BottomNone
General HabitatOyster ReefNone
General HabitatMarinas & DocksNone
General HabitatCanalsNone
General HabitatMangrovesNone
General HabitatSalt-brackish marshNone
Salinity RangeLimnetic0-0.5 PSU
Salinity RangeOligohaline0.5-5 PSU
Salinity RangeMesohaline5-18 PSU
Salinity RangePolyhaline18-30 PSU
Salinity RangeEuhaline30-40 PSU
Salinity RangeHyperhaline40+ PSU
Tidal RangeSubtidalNone
Tidal RangeLow IntertidalNone
Vertical HabitatEpibenthicNone
Vertical HabitatLittoralNone
Vertical HabitatNektonicNone

Tolerances and Life History Parameters

Minimum Temperature (ºC)3Field data- Williams 1984
Maximum Temperature (ºC)35Field data- Williams 1984
Minimum Salinity (‰)0Field data- Williams 1984. Salinities above 20 PSU are required for successful larval development (Williams 1984).
Maximum Salinity (‰)48Field data- Williams 1984
Maximum Width (mm)227Measured across carapace, including lateral spines, male (Williams 1984)
Broad Temperature RangeNoneWarm temperate-Tropical
Broad Salinity RangeNoneNontidal Limnetic-Hyperhaline

General Impacts

Economic Impacts

Fisheries- In US West Coast and Hawaiian waters, Callinectes sapdius has not become established, and has had no reported impacts. In the Mediterranean Sea, large population outbreaks occurred in lakes of the Nile Delta in 1957-1958, and 1964-65, breaking fishnets, killing fish, and interfering with more desirable crab fisheries (Anonymous 1965). Fishermen in the Lagoon of Patok, Albania, report that C. sapidus damage their fishing nets (Beqiraj and Kashta 2010). In Greek and Turkish waters, C. sapidus has in some years supported a substantial fishery, but seems to have had sharp declines since the 1980s, attributed to disease and pollution (Enzenrob et al. 1997).

Ecological Impacts

Accounts of C. sapidus population outbreaks in the Nile Delta in the 1950s and 1960s are suggestive of competition with native crabs ('red crabs', not identified) (Anonymous 1965). Zenetos et al. (2011) listed C. sapidus as 'invasive' in the eastern Mediterranean, also suggestive of competition. However, competitive effects of C. sapdius on other crabs or other marine biota have not been studied in the Mediterranean.

Regional Impacts

MED-VNoneEconomic ImpactFisheries
Large population outbreaks occurred in lakes of the Nile Delta in 1957-1958, and 1964-65, breaking fishnets, killing fish, and interfering with more desirable crab fisheries ('red crabs', not identified) (Anonymous 1965).
MED-VIINoneEconomic ImpactFisheries
Fishermen in the Lagoon of Patok, Albania, report that Blue Crabs (Callinectes sapidus) damage their fishing nets (Beqiraj and Kashta 2010). Fishermen citizen-scientists perceived impacts as negative (Cerri et al. 2020).
MED-VINoneEconomic ImpactFisheries
In Greek and Turkish waters, C. sapidus has in some years supported a substantial fishery, but seems to have had sharp declines since the 1980s, attributed to disease and pollution (Enzenrob et al. 1997).
MED-VNoneEcological ImpactCompetition
Accounts of C. sapidus population outbreaks in the Nile Delta in the 1950s and 1960s are suggestive of competition with native crabs ('red crabs', not identified) (Anonymous 1965). Zenetos et al. (2011) listed C. sapidus as 'invasive' in the eastern Mediterranean, also suggestive of competition. However, competitive effects of C. sapdius on other crabs or marine biota have not been studied in the Mediterranean.

Regional Distribution Map

Bioregion Region Name Year Invasion Status Population Status
CAR-I Northern Yucatan, Gulf of Mexico, Florida Straits, to Middle Eastern Florida 0 Native Estab
CAR-VII Cape Hatteras to Mid-East Florida 0 Native Estab
NA-ET3 Cape Cod to Cape Hatteras 0 Native Estab
MED-V None 1942 Def Estab
MED-VI None 1945 Def Estab
MED-IX None 1967 Def Estab
MED-VII None 1949 Def Estab
MED-II None 1962 Def Estab
NEA-II None 1932 Def Estab
NEA-IV None 1900 Def Unk
B-III None 1951 Def Unk
NEP-V Northern California to Mid Channel Islands 1897 Def Failed
NWP-3b None 1976 Def Unk
NA-ET4 Bermuda 0 Native Estab
CAR-V None 0 Native Estab
CAR-II None 0 Native Estab
CAR-IV None 0 Native Estab
CAR-III None 0 Native Estab
SA-III None 0 Native Estab
SA-II None 0 Native Estab
NA-ET2 Bay of Fundy to Cape Cod 0 Native Unk
SP-XXI None 1985 Def Unk
P090 San Francisco Bay 1897 Def Failed
NEA-V None 1960 Def Estab
MED-IV None 1982 Def Estab
MED-VIII None 1974 Def Estab
B-II None 2007 Def Unk
P040 Newport Bay 2010 Def Failed
NEP-VI Pt. Conception to Southern Baja California 2011 Def Failed
NEA-III None 2010 Def Failed
NA-ET1 Gulf of St. Lawrence to Bay of Fundy 1902 Native Unk
PAN_CAR Panama Caribbean Coast 0 Native Estab
MED-III None 1970 Def Estab
B-V None 2018 Def Unk
WA-I None 2021 Def Estab
MED-I None 2021 Def Estab

Occurrence Map

OCC_ID Author Year Date Locality Status Latitude Longitude


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Barnes, Robert D. (1983) Invertebrate Zoology, Saunders, Philadelphia. Pp. 883

Beqiraj, Sajmir; Kashta, Lefter (2010) The establishment of blue crab Callinectes sapidus Rathbun, 1896 in the Lagoon of Patok, Albania (south-east Adriatic Sea), Aquatic Invasions 5(2): <missing location>

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