Ghost Crab Eats Plover

Piping Plover - a solitary beach nester.

The piping plover (Charadrius melodus) is a small shorebird with a black neck band and a black bar across the forehead.


The upper parts are light sandy-brown and the underparts are white, providing the plover
 with camouflage (as shown in the picture on the left) against sandy beach backgrounds. The legs are 
bright orange and, in breeding plumage, the bill is also orange
 with a black tip. Although males and females are similar in 
appearance, males typically have darker, more extensive neck bands. In winter, the birds lose the breast bands, the legs fade from orange to pale yellow, and the bill becomes mostly black.

Piping plovers are approximately 7 inches long with a wingspan of 35–41 cm (14–16 in). Piping plover adults and chicks feed on marine worms, insect larvae, beetles, crustaceans, mollusks and other small marine animals and their eggs. They tend to be solitary foragers.

Piping Plovers are only found in North America and are present on the New Jersey shore during the breeding season, generally between March 15 and August 31.


These territorial birds nest above the high tide line, usually on sandy ocean beaches and barrier islands, but also on gently sloping foredunes. Their nests consist of a shallow scrape in the sand, frequently lined with shell fragments and often located near small clumps of vegetation. Females lay three to four sand colored eggs that hatch in about 25 days.


The chicks, which are tiny, white, and downy, leave the nest within a few hours of hatching. Able to walk, the chicks follow their parents, pecking and running in search of food. When predators or intruders come close, piping plover chicks squat motionless on the sand while the parents attempt to attract the attention of the intruders, often by pretending to have a broken wing.

Both the male and female care for the chicks for about 3 to 4 weeks. The young are able to fly at 25 to 35 days. The juveniles can breed the following year, but many do not until their second year.

Piping Plovers are endangered and generally uncommon. Earlier this summer we were lucky to see a few Piping Plovers at the “Point” in Stone Harbor, New Jersey, since it is rare to see more than a few individuals together. I was only able to get a few pictures…..and they were gone! The area where they have their nests and breed is closed to the general public.


Their predators come out in the dark.

Predators of piping plover chicks and eggs are foxes ,rats, raccoons, skunks, crows, gulls AND Ghost Crabs. Along the Atlantic seaboard Piping Plovers and Ghost Crabs share common turf.

Ghost crabs (genus Ocypode) are sandy or whitish in color, have claws of unequal size and rather hairy legs. They are very well camouflaged in their beach environment as shown in the adult picture on the left.

The back, or carapace, is nearly rectangular in shape, and adults are about 3.75–5 cm (about 1.5–2 inches) across. Long stalks support the eyes which help it see in any direction. This creature uses its sharp 360-degree vision to see flying insects and catch them in mid air.

Recently at the Point we found an adult and a juvenile out during the day. The juvenile, below, was only about 2 cm. across.


The crab lives in burrows sometimes 1 m (3.3 feet) deep. They remain in the burrow during the hottest part of the day, and throughout the coldest part of the winter.

As night falls they will emerge, as most Ghosts do, to feed on sand fleas and mole crabs which are an important part of their diet, but there is evidence that ghost crabs are predators of piping plover eggs and chicks.

It can walk indefinitely using all four pairs of walking legs, occasionally alternating which side leads.

At higher speeds, the fourth pair of legs is raised off the ground, and at the highest speeds, the crab runs, using only the first and second pairs of walking legs. The ghost crab can move at speeds up to 10 miles per hour (4.5 m/s), while making sharp directional changes.

Ghost crabs are aggressive and will chase Piping Plover chicks.

Just a few days later - everything has gone!

We went to the "Point" this morning. All the Plovers are gone. Don't know what happened to the Ghost Crabs, but where there were hundreds of Ghost Crab holes in the sand a few days ago there were none today.


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